Always Stretch Before and After Your Workout

Getting our workouts in every week is a victory we all would like to achieve. Trying to fit our workouts into our busy social life and overall daily living can be a real challenge. Added to that, we even need to push ourselves a little further by doing our workouts the right way with plenty of time to stretch before and after our workout.

According to Michael J. Alter, author of Sport Stretch, the benefits of taking the time to stretch before and after your workout enhances physical fitness and sports performance – keeps our muscles healthy. It increases mental and physical relaxation and develops body awareness. But, to gain all these rightful benefits, it is crucial that we stretch our bodies – the right way -- properly and carefully.

Now that you know you should stretch before your workout, you also need to warm your body up before you stretch. Warm muscles help the overall conditioning of the body, in general, in that muscles stretch better when they are warm. With that, before you start any type of stretching, you need to get your body moving -- get your blood pumping. You should engage in at least five minutes of aerobic activity such as brisk walking, light jogging or jumping rope. Truthfully, ten minutes of light aerobic activity is best. The idea is that the increased blood flow in the muscles raises your core body temperature. It improves muscle performance and flexibility while it reduces the likelihood of injury. You don’t what to get injured.

Focus on the idea that each stretch you perform should be for one muscle. You need to place your attention on isolating each muscle as you stretch in a slow, relaxed, static stretching. This way allows your muscle to reduce tension gradually -- isolating the muscle you are stretching. Your body will experience resistance from fewer muscle groups – getting a better and more effective stretch in the intended muscle. This gives you greater control over the stretch and allows you to more easily change its intensity. Melissa Joulwan, a certified fitness instructor, and triathlete stated, "If we try to lengthen the muscle too quickly or forcefully, it responds with a reflexive contraction -- it shortens the muscle in a protective response to the stress, so the muscle is tightened, rather than relaxed. To get the most out of your stretch, begin the exercise gently and hold it in place." How long you should hold your stretch varies from different sources. The most common practice is to hold the stretch for 10 - 15 seconds before your workout. After your workout which is called “cooling-off period”, you can hold your stretches longer up to 30 seconds. Bouncing up and down while you stretch is not good for your body and can tighten the muscle and even bring about pain -- stretching should never hurt.

When starting to take a good deep breath in and slowly release the breath as you gradually relax into the stretching position. The proper way to breathe while stretching is to inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the abdomen, not the chest. Hold the breath for a moment then exhale slowly through the nose or mouth. You then relax further into the stretch and feel the tension in the muscle melt away. The breath should be natural and the diaphragm and abdomen should remain soft. There should be no force of breath.

According to Joulman., no matter what your sport or fitness activity is, there are five major body segments that need to be stretched for optimal fitness: shoulders/back, arms, chest, hips, and legs. You should start with your back, followed by your upper body and lower body.

"In an ideal world, we'd all have time to start the day with a lovely warm-up and a half-hour of uninterrupted stretching. In the real world, lots of people skip out of the stretching at the end of aerobics classes and we run, run, run, right from the running path to the shower and off to work, without taking necessary cool-down time. Minimally, you should stretch twice a week to keep your muscles limber and your mind relaxed," concluded Joulman.

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