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How and When to Stretch

As an athlete, weekend warrior, or active individual, you’ve probably been told that you need to stretch, whether it’s before or after your workout. But have you listened? Here’s why stretching is essential, especially as you get older, and when to do it.

Why Should You Stretch?

Have you noticed that your muscles are a lot tighter than they used to be? As we age, our range of motion can become more limited. That’s one of the places stretching comes into play. “Stretching helps to increase flexibility and range of motion,” explains Luke Lombardo, master trainer at Lagree Fitness in Los Angeles and an Ironman triathlete. “Increasing these can help to decrease your risk of injury. Plus, stretching also increases blood flow to the muscles, thus improving your overall performance.”

When Should You Stretch?

“The general train of thought these days is that you should do a dynamic stretching warm-up before a workout and static stretching after your workout,” explains Lauren Williams, NASM, Nike trainer in New York City.

Pre-workout try to focus on stretches that involve movement, targeting the areas you will be working during your exercise session. For example, leg swings and butt kicks are great as part of a warm-up before doing explosive lower-body work, Williams says.

When you finish working out, a good stretch can help you avoid tightening up, Lombardo says. Static stretching, or stretching without movement, when you focus on holding a stretch for a longer period of time are good after a workout. It can also help to prevent excessive soreness the following day.

How and When to Stretch - Supine Hamstring Stretch

What Stretches Should You Do?

Your workout will determine what type of stretch you’re doing, but we asked both Lombardo and Williams to share some generally great stretches for all. Try adding these to your regimen.

Before your workout:

World’s Greatest Stretch
• Leg Swings
• Arm Swings

After your workout:

• Straight-Leg Hamstring Stretch
• Calf and Achilles Stretch
• Downward Dog
• Seated Spinal Twist

Though most people stretch too little rather than too much, you can overdo it. “Overstretching can lead to muscle pulls and tears,” Lombardo says. “It’s important to ease into it. Starting with dynamic or stretches with movement increases the blood flow to the muscles. Once you’ve been moving properly, you can go into deeper, static stretching without the fear of hurting yourself.”

Photo: Peopleimages, Photology 1971

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