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Find out the best ways to stretch and the best times to do it.

Do any of these lines sound familiar?

  • You have to hold a stretch to get the benefit.
  • Don't bounce in the stretch -- you'll tear your muscle.
  • If you don't stretch before a workout, you'll hurt yourself.

Well, they're all wrong. But first, there's a bigger question to answer.

Do You Need to Stretch at All?

It's a good idea, says the American College of Sports Medicine. The ACSM recommends stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week for 60 seconds per exercise.

Staying flexible as you age is a good idea. It helps you move better.

For example, regular stretching can help keep your hips and hamstrings flexible later in life, says Lynn Millar, PhD. She's a physical therapist and professor at Winston-Salem State University.

If your posture or activities are a problem, make it a habit to stretch those muscles regularly. If you have back pain from sitting at a desk all day, stretches that reverse that posture could help.

Simple Back Stretch

Exercise physiologist Mike Bracko recommends doing the "Standing Cat-Camel" as a work-related back stretch. Here's how:

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent slightly.
  • Lean forward, placing your hands just above your knees.
  • Round your back so that your chest is closed and your shoulders are curved forward.
  • Then arch your back so that your chest opens and your shoulders roll back.
  • Repeat several times.

If your job keeps you in the same position all day, Bracko suggests doing 2-minute stretch breaks to reverse that posture at least every hour.

Do You Need to Hold a Stretch to Get the Benefit?

Not necessarily.

Stretching a muscle to the full extent of your ability and holding it for 15 to 30 seconds is what's called a static stretch, and there's no harm in stretching that way as long you don't stretch until it hurts.

But studies suggest a dynamic stretch is just as effective, and sometimes better, especially before your workout.

A dynamic stretch, like the Standing Cat-Camel, moves a muscle group fluidly through an entire range of motion.

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