The Home Stretch
you stretch, and when should you do it?
improves flexibility, which allows you to move your
joints through their full range of motion. Flexibility
is a key element of fitness; it can enhance physical
performance and relieve muscle tension and stiffness.
You should stretch after a warm-up and/or when cooling
down after a workout, since it is easier and safer to
stretch a warm muscle than a cold one. Warm-ups bring
blood to the muscles and make injuries from stretching
less likely. There is considerable variation in baseline
flexibility between individuals. Genetics, injuries, and
abnormal biomechanics all play a role in these
differences. One shouldn't try to make big gains in
flexibility in a short period of time. Stretching should
be done gradually over a long period of time and then
maintained to prevent slipping back towards
inflexibility. Some people will enthusiastically embark
on a stretching program, but then quit two weeks later
because they haven't seen any benefit. Be patient and
consistent. It takes a long time. It is very important
to relax during the stretching routine. It should not be
a rushed event. Don't think about your job and don't
look at others working out. The "I've got to hurry up
and do this so I can go" attitude is counterproductive.
This is a time to slow your breathing and to free your
ballistic stretching, and is it advisable?
stretching means doing bouncing, repetitive movements
while stretching. For example, bending forcefully to
touch your toes with your knees straight and bouncing
while you reach is ballistic stretching. This may do
more harm than good, because the muscles may shorten
reflexively. However, some professional athletes believe
that controlled ballistic stretching can better prepare
a muscle for sustained activity, especially one
requiring a burst of speed. We advise against ballistic
stretching for most people.
really injure yourself while stretching?
stretching, stretching until it hurts, or holding the
stretch too long is not recommended. Stretching should
feel good. You should stretch to the point of mild
discomfort, at most, and then ease up.
It's probably the
safest kind. You stretch through a muscle's full range
of movement until you feel resistance, but not pain,
then hold the maximum position for 20 to 30 seconds,
relax, and repeat several times. In static toe touches,
for example, you slowly roll down, with knees bent, and
hang in the down position without bouncing, then slowly
stretching with a trainer or therapist?
You and a trainer,
or any partner, may do what's called proprioceptive
neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF, to push a muscle to
a greater degree of flexibility. One type of PNF, called
contract-relax stretching, involves contracting a muscle
against resistance, usually provided by another person
(see illustrations #6 and #7). You relax, then stretch
while the partner or trainer pushes the muscle into a
static stretch. You can also do PNF without a partner.
You isolate one
muscle at a time and stretch it by contracting the
opposite muscle (see illustrations #3 and #9). You hold
the stretch for only 1 or 2 seconds and repeat it up to
10 times. In addition, you can use a rope, your hands,
or a partner to enhance the stretch.
stretching prevent injury?
There is no hard
evidence that it does. Runners who never stretch before
running are no more prone to injury than those who
stretch, according to some research. But, in theory,
stretching should protect against injury, and many
athletes believe it does. Whatever the answer, cold
muscles are more likely to tear than warm ones. Warming
up before stretching may prevent stretching injuries,
and stretching itself may help prevent injuries while
exercising cannot head off muscle soreness if you've
overdone things. However, it does promote flexibility,
continues to pump blood through the muscles and, as
we've said, it feels good.
stretching have mental benefits?
It may benefit
your mind as well as your body. When done in a slow and
focused manner, an extended stretching routine is an
excellent relaxation method and stress reducer (just as
yoga and tai chi are). Stretching can help tense people
reduce anxiety and muscle tension, as well as lower
blood pressure and breathing rate. A good
stretching-and-breathing routine can be as effective as
any other means of relaxation.
first, then stretch
always be preceded by a
brief (5- to 10-minute) warm-up, such as jogging in
place, moderately energetic walking, riding a stationary
bicycle, or doing less-vigorous rehearsals of the sport
or exercise you're about to perform. Warming up
gradually increases your heart rate and blood flow and
raises the temperature of muscles, ligaments, and
tendons. Stretching while muscles are cold may injure
muscles. Sudden exertion without a warm-up can lead to
abnormal heart rate and blood flow and changes in blood
pressure, which can be dangerous, especially for older
Tips for stretching
Stretch at least three times a week to maintain
A session should last 10 to 20 minutes, with each
static stretch held at least 20 seconds (working up to
30 seconds) and usually repeated about four times.
Stretch before exercising or playing a sport to
improve performance and perhaps prevent injury.
Besides a general stretch of major muscle groups,
stretch the specific muscles required for your sport
Do not stretch until it hurts. If there's any pain,
Don't bounce. Stretching should be gradual and
Focus on the muscle groups you want to stretch.
Try to stretch opposing muscles in both your arms and
legs. Include static stretches plus PNF or
Don't hold your breath during a stretch.
Stretch after exercising to prevent muscles from
The basic stretching session:
Tilt head to right, keeping shoulders down. Place
right hand on left side of head. Gently pull head
toward right shoulder and hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
Switch sides and repeat.
CALF STRETCH (for
gastrocnemius and soleus muscles). Stand 2 to 3 feet
from a wall, with feet perpendicular to wall in the
position shown, and lean against wall for 20 to 30
seconds. Keep feet parallel to each other; make sure
rear heel stays on floor. Switch legs and repeat.
Variation: keep rear knee slightly bent during
SPINAL STRETCH Sit
in a chair with your back straight, feet firmly on
floor, toes pointing up slightly. Lock hands behind
head, with elbows out and chin down. Contract
abdominal muscles. To loosen up, twist upper body to
one side as far as you can, then repeat 4 times in
the same direction. The last time, rotate, hold, and
then flex your torso forward, leaning toward floor
with elbow. Hold for 2 seconds. Return to upright
position. Repeat 8 to 10 times. Do same routine on
OUTER THIGH STRETCH
(for iliotibial band). Placing left hand against
wall for balance, place left foot behind and beyond
right foot. Bend left ankle and lean into wall. Hold
for 20 to 30 seconds, then switch and repeat.
HIP STRETCH (for
hip flexor). From a kneeling position, bring right
foot forward until knee is directly over ankle; keep
right foot straight. Rest left knee on floor behind
you. Leaning into front knee, lower pelvis and front
of left hip toward floor to create an easy stretch.
Hold for 20 to 30seconds, then switch legs and
(for adductor muscles in groin). Sit on floor,
bringing heels together near groin and holding feet
together by the ankles. Have a partner gently push
your knees down; hold for 5 seconds. Try to bring
your knees upward as partner provides resistance.
Relax, then have partner gently push down again for
a greater stretch. Repeat. You can do the first part
without a partner, simply by lowering your knees as
far as possible.
THIGH STRETCH (for
quadriceps, in front of thigh). Lie on stomach. Have
a partner grasp your lower leg and bend it until you
feel the stretch on front of thigh. While partner
provides resistance, try to push leg back for 3 to 5
seconds. Relax while partner bends your leg again
until you feel a stretch again. Switch legs.
(for lower back). Lying on back, bend left knee at
90° and extend arms out to sides. Place right hand
on left thigh and pull that bent knee over right
leg. Keeping head on floor, turn to look toward
outstretched left arm. Pull bent left knee toward
floor; keep shoulders flat on floor. Hold for 20 to
30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.
THIGH STRETCH (for hamstrings, in back of
thigh). Lie on back. Place a rope loosely around
sole of one foot, grasping both ends with both
hands. Contracting front of thigh, lift that leg as
high as possible, aiming your foot toward ceiling.
"Climb" hand over hand up the looped rope to lift
your leg gently, keeping upper body on floor.
Keeping tension on the rope and using it for gentle
assistance, hold stretch for 2 seconds. Don't pull
your leg into position—that can cause knee problems.
Repeat 8 to 10 times, then switch legs.
LUMBAR STRETCH (for lower back). Lying on
back, clasp one hand under each knee. Gently pull
both knees toward chest, keeping lower back on
floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, relax, then
If you have any back, neck, bone or joint
problems consult your doctor before beginning a
stretching program. No stretching routine should be
painful. Pain indicates either incorrect technique or
a medical problem. If in doubt, ask a qualified health