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New Ideas on Proper Stretching Techniques

Some stretching routines may hinder, not help, your athletic performance.
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7 Things You Need to Know about Proper Stretching Techniques continued...

"Improving your flexibility allows you to put your body in good ergonomic alignment," Schatz says. "Yoga can help you combine flexibility and strength, breathe properly, reduce head, neck, and back pain, and put the body back in balance."

After your workout or competition, then do static stretches. "Too many people do static stretching before and then nothing after," says Holcomb. "That's the most common mistake I see." This is where you'll lengthen muscles and improve your flexibility. Hold static stretches for about 30 seconds.

Learn warm-ups and stretches particular to your sport. Levine's team takes care of 29 varsity teams, so he's seen every kind of sports injury there is.

"For example, football linemen are vulnerable to shoulder tears," he says. "Runners may suffer knee problems and shin splints. For golfers, the lower back is often the hot spot."

New research shows it's a good move to learn stretching routines customized for your sport and to help prevent the injuries most common to it. The Santa Monica Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Research Foundation in California studied women soccer players who are subject to ACL tears and created a program called Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance (PEP). The program (which can be downloaded at http://www.aclprevent.com/pepprogram.htm) includes a warm-up and stretches (as well as strengthening and agility exercises) specifically designed to prevent ACL injuries.

Never stretch to the point of pain. Forget the phrase "no pain, no gain. "You do not want pain when you're doing dynamic stretching," says Holcomb. "It should be gentle to start and then progress." When you're doing your static stretching afterward, you should go to the point of slight discomfort and intensity, he says, to improve your flexibility. But if you're making a face, your muscle is contracting to protect itself, which is counterproductive.

Stretch to de-stress. These are stressed-out times, and stretching can help. "As you know, your mind affects your body, and your body affects your mind," says Dean Ornish, MD, founder of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, Calif., and author of The Spectrum. "During times of emotional stress, the muscles in your body contract. This is an adaptive response to acute stress, as it fortifies your 'body armor' so that in times of danger, if you get hit, for example, your muscles help to protect you.

"However, in times of chronic stress, these same mechanisms that have evolved to protect us can create problems -- chronically tensed muscles, especially those in the back and neck, predispose to chronic pain or injury. Thus, stress management techniques can help prevent this. Also, gentle stretching of chronically tensed muscles provide relaxation to the mind as well as the body."

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Reviewed on October 25, 2010

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