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The Basics: Stretch Your Fitness Limits

In the quest for fitness, don't overlook flexibility
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How to Get Started

Whatever type of flexibility exercise you choose, Stuhr cautions, use self-restraint -- don't just leap into that Pilates or yoga class and start trying to keep up with the folks in the front row.

"People tend to do too much," she says. "They go in and complete an hour class when they probably only should have done about 15 minutes."

She recommends choosing a class appropriate to your fitness level, or taking a private lesson with a qualified teacher. Listen to your body and don't overdo it, she says.

And if you're new to flexibility training -- especially if you have an injury or disability -- it's a good idea to get evaluated by a qualified fitness professional or physical therapist.

Here are some tips to consider when stretching:

  • Be sure your muscles are warm before you stretch. If you are going to stretch before a workout, walk for five minutes first to get blood flowing to the muscles.
  • Never bounce or push during a stretch.
  • Ease into the stretch. Start with trying to hold it for 10 seconds. Work up to 30, and eventually 90 seconds.
  • Exhale as you stretch.
  • If you cannot stretch both before and after a workout, most experts advise stretching after the body has warmed up.
  • Never stretch an injured muscle or joint.
  • Stretching every day is optimal, but try to do it at least three times a week.

The Stretches

Below are some basic stretching exercises that target all the major muscle groups. Do the whole workout, or stretch a particular part of your body that's feeling tight. And don't forget to follow the safety tips above!

Neck: Standing straight with feet shoulder-width apart, drop the right ear toward the right shoulder and hold. Roll the head forward, stopping to rest the chin at your chest, than continue until the left ear is over the left shoulder. Lift the head and repeat starting on your left side.

Chest: Lying face-down with arms by your sides and palms facing down, tighten the abdominals to support the low back, than slide the shoulder blades down and together (like a "V") as you float your hands off the floor and lift your upper spine slightly off the floor.

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