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Stretch Out Your Workout

Focused on Health - February 2011

by Colleen Martin

It’s tough enough to find time to exercise, let alone stretch before and after your workout.

So, if you’re pressed for time, stretching might be the first thing you leave out of your workout. But skipping stretching also means you’re missing a great opportunity to warm-up your muscles as well as reduce stress, boost energy and improve your circulation.

Regular stretching done after strength training or playing sports enhances athletic performance, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. And, stretching has been demonstrated to help maintain the range of motion in joints that we otherwise tend to lose as we get older.

Corinna Perez, a fitness expert at MD Anderson, suggests stretching before your workout to prepare your body for activity and afterwards to cool down.

“Stretching after activity can be very soothing and relaxing,” Perez says. “These are some of my favorites for before and after a workout.”

1. Calf and ankle stretch

  • Stand a few feet away from a solid support, like the wall at your gym, and lean on it with your forearms. Bend one leg, leaving your other leg straight. Move your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the straight leg. Hold for 15-20 seconds. Repeat with your other leg.

calf and ankle stretch

  • Slightly bend your back knee, keeping your foot flat. You should feel a much lower stretch. Hold for 15-20 seconds and release. Repeat with your other leg.

2. Hamstring and quadriceps stretch

  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend both knees and hold for 30 seconds. Stand up slowly and bend forward at the hips. Keep your knees slightly bent and reach for your toes. You should feel the major muscles in your legs relax.

hamstring stretch

3. Shoulders and neck

  • Raise the top of your shoulders toward your ears until you feel slight tension in your neck and shoulders. Hold for 10 seconds then relax to a normal position. Repeat three times.

sholder and neck stretch

  • Start with your head in center and slowly lean to the left, stretching the right side of the neck. Hold for 10 seconds and return to center. Stretch your other side. Repeat three times.

4. Arms and back

  • Interlace your fingers behind your back. Slowly turn your elbows inward while straightening your arms. Hold for 15-20 seconds.

arm and back stretch

5. Whole body stretch

  • Lie flat on your back and extend your arms and legs. Point your fingers and toes as you stretch as far as you can. Stretch for 15 seconds, then relax. Repeat three times.

whole body stretch

Remember, stretching should be part of every workout. So make time to stretch before you workout to prepare your muscles for the activity ahead and afterward to relax them.

You’ll reap the benefits of stretching for years to come. 

Related Links

Stretch Toward Better Health (MD Anderson)
5 Easy Stretches You Can Do at Work (Everyday Health)
Is Stretching Really Important? (American Institute for Cancer Research)
Stretching Made Easy (American Institute for Cancer Research)
Yoga Benefits Include Preventing Cancer (MD Anderson)

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