If you exercise regularly, you probably have a routine set of steps to get ready. You make sure you have water, appropriate clothes and shoes, and any special equipment you need. Before you get moving, do you stretch? Many athletes include this step before every workout, believing that stretching the muscles will help prevent injuries. But some recent studies suggest that this is not the case. While flexibility is important, a recent study of experienced runners found that those who stretched before running were no less likely to sustain an injury than those who didn’t. In fact, improper stretching could cause an injury.
You can safely stretch to improve flexibility regardless of your fitness level. Just don’t count on stretching to prevent exercise injuries. Make sure to warm up your muscles first with walking or another low-intensity activity. Then stretch in a slow, fluid motion and hold a position for 10 to 30 seconds. Stretching should not hurt. No bouncing–it is just as rough on your muscle fibers as it feels! Ask a coach or trainer if there are stretches with benefits specific to your sport or exercise. Are you thinking of starting a new activity that focuses on flexibility? Tai chi, Pilates, and yoga practice (shown above) combine graceful movement and stretching. A well-trained instructor in any of these disciplines will support you in gradually building your strength and flexibility without risking injury.
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