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Be Flexible

Stretches to stay fit

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Be Flexible

Stretching is an important part of fitness, and each stretch may be considered an exercise. Follow these instructions to increase your range of motion.

I once participated in a fashion show at a shopping mall. My audience was full of elderly men with brown paper bags concealing bottles, as well as my friends from broomball (who had shown up for a good laugh).

On my last turn down the catwalk, I showed off by doing the splits and touching my chest to the floor to the glee of the hooting crowd. I was hoping I wouldn’t get stuck when I heard what sounded like two rounds from a starter’s pistol. I’d strained both hamstrings, and the crowd witnessed me limping off the stage.

I had committed a stretcher’s sin. I had stretched without sufficiently warming up.

Benefits of stretching

Stretching is an important part of fitness, and each stretch may be considered an exercise. Exercise physiologist Elizabeth Quinn lists several benefits of stretching:

  • Improved circulation, range of motion, and posture
  • Reduction in joint stiffness and muscle tension
  • Possible improvement in performance
  • Greater relaxation

Stretching also provides time for mental training such as visualization.

Two types of stretching

Dynamic
Dynamic stretching involves rapid movements, stimulates the muscles for action, and is good prior to exercise.

Static
Static stretching, in which a stretch is held, relaxes the muscles and should never be used to begin a workout. We will consider static stretches here.

Static stretching lengthens a muscle. If you point your toes, your calf muscles flex. If you flex for too long, you’ll develop a steeplechase-winning charley horse. Then you’ll need to stretch the calf muscle to relieve it. Standing up and forcing the heel to the ground does this. If a muscle flexes, another stretches. That’s how we move.

Follow these instructions to increase your range of motion.

Stretching tips

  • Warm up before stretching to stretch effectively.
  • Never bounce to intensify the stretch—you’ll end up shortening the muscle rather than stretching it.
  • Always stretch opposing muscles, and stretch both sides of the body.
  • Stretch slowly—hold each stretch for at least 10 counts.

4 gentle stretches

Here are a few opposing stretches for the arms and legs—body parts that often develop cramps.

1: Triceps
Bend your left arm behind your head to touch your right shoulder blade. Use your right hand to gently pull your left arm toward your head.

2: Biceps
Stand with your hands flexed at your side. Rotate the hands clockwise, and then counter-clockwise.

3: Quadriceps
Standing with a slightly bent left leg, bend your right knee, folding your right leg up behind you. Reach back and hold your right shin (not your foot.) To get the full benefit rotate your hip forward as well. This engages all four quadriceps muscles.

4: Hamstrings
In a standing position bend your right knee and extend the left leg, resting on your left heel. Feel the stretch in the back of the thigh. Include your calf muscles by pointing and flexing your foot.

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