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Exercise for Beginners - Flexibility

Why you need to stretch

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Updated March 10, 2014

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Flexibility is one area of fitness we don't think much about, beyond doing a few stretches before or after a workout.  In fact, stretching is the one thing most of us skip as we run out of time, energy and motivation.  After all, stretching doesn't burn many calories so why bother?

One reason?  The simple fact that flexible muscles allow your joints to move through a full range of motion and that full range of motion is how you get the most out of your workouts. 

Think about what happens when you're tight somewhere in your body.  If you have tight hips, maybe you can't do a proper squat - Hips low to the ground and behind you, abs braced, knees behind the toes.  If your hips are tight, maybe you can't go down as low or maybe other parts of your body step in to compensate for those tight hips.  That means two things:  1.  You're not getting the most that you can from that exercise and, 2.  If you keep doing it that way, you can end up with a repetitive stress injury.

The Benefits of Stretching

  • You'll improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury.  One note:  Studies have shown that stretching does not help reduce soreness from your workout, so don't expect it to cure all that ails you.  Still, keeping the amount of flexibility you need to exercise safely is important for your overall health.
  • You'll reduce muscle soreness and improve your posture
  • You'll help reduce lower back pain
  • You'll increase blood and nutrients to the tissues
  • You'll improve your coordination
  • You'll enjoy exercise more and help reduce stress

How to Stretch

  1. Stretch after your workout - Studies have shown that stretching before exercise doesn't reduce our risk of injury or soreness.  In fact, stretching cold muscles could possibly lead to injury.  If your goal is to increase flexibility, it's best to stretch after your workout when your muscles are warm and pliable.  Set aside at least 5 minutes to enjoy this part of your workout.
  2. Stretch the muscles you worked during your workout - If you don't have much time, focus on your major muscles or the muscles that tend to be the tightest such as the hips, quads, hamstrings, calves and chest.
  3. Don't bounce - When doing static stretches, don't bounce. Hold a comfortable position until you feel a gentle pull on your muscle. It shouldn't hurt and bouncing could cause you to pull a muscle.
  4. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds to get the most flexibility benefits.
  5. Stretch throughout the day - Stretching when you're warm can increase flexibility, but stretching throughout the day can also help you reduce tension and stress.  Try these great stretches for office workers.

Flexibility Workouts and Resources

Back to Exercise for Beginners

More About Setting Up Your Program

Sources

Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ. Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011, Issue 7. Art. No.: CD004577. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004577.pub3.

Shrier, I.  Stretching Before Exercise Does Not Reduce Risk of Local Muscle Injury. Clin J Sport Med. 1999 Oct;9(4):221-7.

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