Streeetch your workout

by Laura Dillavou

Told time and time again is the importance of stretching your muscles before and after a workout. Not only does stretching help you avoid injury, it also creates a better muscle tone, improves flexibility and will prevent soreness from setting in.

However, it isn’t until recently that physicians and athletic trainers nationwide have realized the impact that stretching can have on a workout. Now, it is considered to be part of a routine, rather than an optional ‘beginning’ to a run.

When starting a workout, it is recommended that a person do a short stint of cardio, such as a jog around the block (no more than 1 mile) before fully stretching out. This will warm the muscles up and allow a greater stretch. Stretching on ‘cold’ muscles, or muscles that are tight, will result in only further tightening them and creating an area of greater tension.

When stretching for a workout, it is important to consider what you will be doing.

For an intense cardio workout, stretching the major muscle groups in the thighs, calves, buttocks and abdominal areas are key. Because these are the areas that receive the brunt of work in a run, session on the elliptical, or bike ride, a long stretch before and after the workout will benefit the body in many ways.

Some easy and effective stretches are a butterfly sit, which focuses on the hip flexors, and quads. Another one is a spinal twist, which stretches out muscles in the buttocks, as well as lower back muscles. Any of these stretches and many, many more can be found in fitness magazines and books.

When executing a weightlifting routine, again, stretching is of the essence. When lifting, the muscle cells are changing and hopefully getting bigger. Therefore, when stretching, it is very important to concentrate on all the areas affected by the weight.

The tricep muscle is often forgot about, leaving a pulling sensation the next day. One of the easiest stretches for this muscle is pulling your arm across your chest and holding it.

Another area that we use literally 24 hours a day is our back. During a weightlifting session, it is vital to keep the back straight and the spine in line. In addition to that stress, consider the way people sit in class, slouching, hunched over, or sprawled back.

One of the best stretches for the back is when you sit on the floor, legs straight out in front, and reach over and grab your ankles. While this is also a stretch for the hamstrings, if you concentrate on pulling with your shoulders, you will feel the release there as well.

To many, stretching may seem mundane and boring.

However, yoga, Pilates, and many sports rely on a person’s ability to be flexible. It is also imperative that in addition to stretching before and after a workout, you drink water or an equal combination of water and a sports drink to replenish dehydrated muscle cells. The water in the body will also help combat the soreness that some may feel after working out.

So next time you start that physical activity, just remember to put at least five minutes of stretching before the fervent part of a workout, and 10-15 minutes at the end. It will not only help you cool down, but the next day, your body will thank you as well.