Stretching Out – Flexibility is an important component of fitness, yet it seems to be the one most neglected, as people spend their limited workout minutes cramming in cardio and strength training. While any exercise certainly is better than none, a few benefits of stretching are that stretching helps improve flexibility and can help you improve range of motion, reduce the risk of injury and just plain feel better.
Some longtime exercisers remember when stretching was done prior to a workout session, but more recent protocol is to stretch very slightly during a dynamic warm-up and then to spend more focused time stretching at the end of one’s routine.
It’s a good idea to focus on the major muscle groups – including the quadriceps and hamstrings, the glutes, the lats and upper back, the pecs, abdomen, shoulders, biceps and triceps. Don’t bounce when you stretch but move into the stretch and hold it for 10-60 seconds, and remember to breathe throughout.
To get started, you can take a flexibility class, ask a personal trainer, seek out online resources or buy a book on common stretches. And if you’re pressed for time at the end of a workout, try to incorporate a few stretches in the shower, at home while watching TV or in your room before bedtime. Don’t worry if you are stiff – just be consistent in stretching and you will gradually improve your range of motion. Every little bit helps and will keep you moving pain-free for a longer time.