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The Importance of Stretching
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The Importance of Stretching

I've spent the past month battling a serious allergy flare-up, and my workout regimen suffered for it.

I just recently felt well enough to head back to the gym, and absolutely loved the feeling of working all the muscles I'd neglected over the past month. But when I woke up the next morning, I realized that I'd neglected one pre-workout routine I'd developed years ago.

Sore all over and barely able to get out of bed, I remembered the importance of stretching before and after my workout.

Studies on the effectiveness of stretching are mixed, but most agree that failure to stretch:

  1. Decreases overall flexibility
  2. Increases risk of injury
  3. Decreases stamina and endurance
  4. Limits the circulation of blood, water and nutrients to the muscles.

The most obvious benefit of stretching? It feels great. Anyone who's sat at a desk for hours on end knows how good it feels to raise their arms above their head and try to touch the ceiling. Stretching improves circulation and endurance, so it leaves you feeling more awake and refreshed after you do it.

Stretching also has benefits when you're undertaking a weight loss or maintenance plan. Living a healthy, active lifestyle increases your chances of success in achieving your weight loss goals, but a joint or muscle injury can seriously hamper your ability to meet those goals.

When incorporating stretching into your fitness regimen, follow these steps:

  1. Get moving! You want to stretch before your real workout begins, but be careful not to stretch completely cold muscles, which may cause injury. Walk around the block before stretching to wake your body up.

  2. Target your stretching: Anyone who's sat at a desk for an extended period of time, or who's woken up sore from a particularly grueling workout, knows which muscles are in serious need of some TLC. Focus your stretching there. The Mayo Clinic recommends focusing on your neck, back, shoulders, hips, thighs, and calves.

  3. But remember to share the love: Most of us favor one side of our body or the other. When stretching, make sure you give equal time to muscles on both sides of your body.

  4. Don't feel the pain: Or if you do, ease up. You want to feel a pleasant pull in your muscles. If a stretch is painful, ease up until you find that place where the stretch is neither easy nor painful.

  5. Fluidity is key: Ease into your stretches. If you bounce, you may end up tearing your muscles and doing more damage than stretching avoids. Flow into your stretches, and then hold them for 30 seconds.

For the best results, integrate stretching into the beginning and end of every workout. Not only will you be less likely to injure yourself, but you'll also improve your flexibility over the long term.