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A Sports and Runner's Guide to Stretching

Updated 8/24/20

Stretching out before you engage in exercise is beneficial for your muscles. Beginning a workout with stretches helps prepare the muscles to engage and flex. Without warming up before running or engaging in another type of exercise, you may be more likely to experience muscle soreness, and you also have a greater chance of injury. Stretching has many benefits for both the body and mind, including greater flexibility, better posture, and reduced emotional stress.

Stretching and Flexibility

Regular stretching helps improves flexibility. Flexibility is the range of motion for joints, determined by how muscles, ligaments, and tendons move. The more you stretch, especially on a regular basis, the more flexible your muscles and connective tissues will become. You will be able to stretch further as you become more flexible. When first starting a stretching regimen, it's common for muscles and joints to feel stiff with a limited range of motion. With gentle and regular stretching, holding a muscle just beyond its typical length, flexibility should improve.

Stretching has additional benefits for the body. Daily stretching can improve posture because it strengths and properly aligns muscles in the upper body. Preparing muscles for exercise helps decrease the likelihood of injury. After stretching, muscles are warm and ready to move, which minimizes the chance of injury. Stretching also increases blood supply to muscles, carrying nutrients throughout the body. Increased blood supply to muscles should help counteract soreness after exercise.

The mind can also derive important benefits from stretching. Tension tends to create stress in muscles as they tighten in response to the stressor. Regular stretching helps release tension from muscles, helping with stress management. Many people feel refreshed and more energetic after stretching. The mental break achieved with stretching often helps restore a calmer mindset.

Stretching should never be painful. As you push a muscle group past its natural range of motion, you may feel some discomfort, but never push past the point of discomfort to pain. Focus on breathing while stretching. Stretch your muscles while inhaling and exhaling rhythmically and deeply. As you hold a stretch, you will probably find that you can gradually increase it. Inhale deeply, then stretch further as you exhale deeply. Continue in this fashion for about a minute for each stretch.

Stretching has a number of benefits for runners. Stretching before a run helps reduce the risk of injury because muscles will be ready to move and flex. Stretching also helps reduce post-run soreness. An effective warm-up before a run will include dynamic movements to use the quadriceps, hamstrings, and hip flexors and get blood flowing faster. Strive for about ten minutes of leg swings, squats, lunges, butt kicks, jumping jacks, and high knees. After this warm-up, you should be ready to move on to your run without the need for traditional static stretches. Static stretches are not recommended for warming up because they can actually stretch the muscles too much and make injury more likely. After running, cool down with a slower jog or a walk until the heart rate has recovered. Then, proceed through dynamic stretches such as deep lunges and squats. While stretching, pay attention to how muscles feel. If you feel tightness in any areas, focus on these muscle groups to help increase flexibility and reduce soreness. Move through some static stretches that focus on specific muscle groups, such as the quadriceps and hamstrings, as well. Hold static stretches for about one minute each, and don't bounce. Bouncing while stretching can tear muscle fibers.

Benefits of Stretching

How to Increase Flexibility

Stretching Exercises for the Upper Body

Stretching Exercises for the Lower Body

Stretching Exercises by Sport

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