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Stretching and Flexibility: 7 Tips

Expert advice on how to stretch and stretching mistakes to avoid.

3. Perform static stretching at the right time. continued...

Why? Think of it this way: Rubber bands and muscles are similar in that they both have elastic properties. A rubber band that's too stretchy cannot be pulled back quickly enough to provide a strong "pop." Likewise, an overly elastic muscle has to work harder to generate the appropriate level of power. This can overtax and strain a muscle.

Most of the recent research suggests that static stretching right before playing a sport or exercising can impair performance, such as reducing jumping height, lowering muscular strength and power, and slowing sprint time.

Static stretching is not bad. As a matter of fact, it can be the safest and most effective form of stretching. It just simply should not be done as a warm-up.

That's why I (and many other experts) suggest that you save static stretching for a cool-down activity, after you're done exercising, or as the main point of your workout (after you have warmed up). During this time, the muscles are warm, more elastic, and less likely to become injured.

Never statically stretch a cold muscle. Cold muscles are more likely to tear when stretched improperly. Be sure to warm-up with active, dynamic movement -- next, I'll tell you how.

4. Use dynamic movement as a warm-up for exercise.

The best way to warm up for exercise is to perform low-intensity, dynamic movement that is similar to the main type of activity that you will perform. Here are three examples:

  1. You're going to jog three miles. First, do some dynamic movement to warm up: slowly walk, gradually speeding up for about five minutes.
  2. You're about to do a set of bench presses. First, bench press a much lighter load -- one that is about 50% to 70% lighter than what you're planning to lift later. Do 2-3 sets of those light bench presses (10-15 repetitions per set).
  3. You're going to stretch your leg muscles. First, do some high knee marches and walking lunges to warm up those muscles.

Movements such as arm circles, jumping jacks, and rope skipping are other good dynamic choices for warming up. Low-intensity activity will gradually raise your heart rate and increase blood flow to the muscles. It will also slowly warm up your body's temperature, so you may even break a little sweat.

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