Stretching is an essential part of a complete exercise program. However, many people skip it, thinking they don't have enough time or it's not very important. Read on to find out why it is so important, and how to go about it.

Here's Why It's Important:

Stretching increases freedom of movement and improves posture. In addition, it releases muscle tension and soreness, enhances relaxation, and reduces your risk of injury during exercise.

Here's How to Stretch:

To stretch your muscles you can either 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:

  • Yoga
  • Tai chi

Here are some tips for safe stretching:

  • Spend at least 5-10 minutes warming up your muscles before stretching. For example, walking gently while swinging your arms in wide circles.
  • Start each stretch slowly, exhaling as you gently stretch the muscle.
  • Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds.

Here are some common stretching mistakes to avoid:

  • Don't bounce during a stretch.
  • Don't stretch a muscle that is not warmed up.
  • If a stretch hurts, ease up. Don't strain or push a muscle too far.
  • Don't hold your breath while stretching.

Getting Started

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 enlist the help of a certified athletic trainer. You can find a trainer at a local gym or through a referral from your healthcare provider or a friend.

Before starting an exercise program, check with your doctor about any possible medical problems you may have that would limit your exercise program.