Stretching is a key part of a complete exercise program. However, many people skip it, thinking they don't have enough time or it's not very important.
Here's Why It's Important:
Stretching can help your body get ready for exercise. It also helps the body recover after aerobic exercise. Other benefits of stretching are:
- More flexibility
- Better range of motion
- Better blood flow
- Lower stress levels
Whether stretching can help prevent injury is unclear. Researchers continue to study the effects of stretching on injury prevention.
Here's How to Stretch:
There are two types of stretching: dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching involves you stretching the muscle while moving. Static stretch is when you are stretching a muscle group while staying in one place. You can do individual stretching exercises for each muscle group or you can do total body stretching routines.
Major muscle groups to stretch include:
- Back muscles
- Neck muscles
- Leg muscles: hamstrings, quadriceps, calf muscles
- Chest muscles
- Buttocks and hip muscles
- Shoulder and arm muscles
- Stomach muscles
Classes in total body stretching include:
Here are some tips for safe stretching:
- Warm up your muscles for at least 5-10 before stretching. For example, walk gently while swinging your arms in wide circles.
- Start each stretch slowly. Breathe out as you gently stretch the muscle.
- Hold each stretch for about 30 seconds.
- Repeat 3 or 4 times.
- Include dynamic and static stretching. A walking lunge without weights is an example of a dynamic stretch. A hamstring stretch is one type of static stretch.
- It might be best to avoid stretching before an intense activity like sprinting or track and field events. Do be sure to do a long warm-up. Some research suggests that pre-event stretching may lower performance.
Here are some common stretching mistakes to avoid:
- Do not bounce during a stretch.
- Do not stretch a muscle that is not warmed up.
- If a stretch hurts, ease up. Do not strain or push a muscle too far.
- Do not hold your breath while stretching.
For total body stretching, you can start by going to yoga or tai chi classes. To learn how to stretch specific muscle groups, you can buy a book on stretching or work with a certified athletic trainer. You can find a trainer at a local gym or ask your doctor or a friend.
Before starting an exercise program, check with your doctor about any health problems that would limit your ability to exercise.
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://orthoinfo.org
Yoga Science Foundation http://www.yogasciencefoundation.org
Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine http://casem-acmse.org
When it Hurts to Move—Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation http://whenithurtstomove.org
Basic injury prevention concepts. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/public-information/articles/2016/10/07/basic-injury-prevention-concepts. Accessed January 12, 2021.
McHugh MP, Cosgrave CH. To stretch or not to stretch: the role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010;20(2):169-181.
The basics of personal training for seniors. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3248/to-stretch-or-not-to-stretch. Accessed January 12, 2021.
To stretch or not to stretch? American Council on Exercise website. Available at: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3248/to-stretch-or-not-to-stretch. Accessed January 12, 2021.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board
- Review Date: 01/2021
- Update Date: 01/29/2021