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Flex those muscles. Stretching is a hugely important part of any exercise session, but is unfortunately often overlooked. Making sure that you regularly give your muscles a good stretch can help to improve flexibility, release muscular tension and avoid any painful injuries. Time to touch your toes...
Although many people see stretching as part of a warm-up, it‘s actually best to perform some gentle exercise before you start lengthening those muscles – alternatively, you could try incorporating a stretching session at the end of a workout.
Not sure how to start? There are many different ways in which you can loosen up, from active stretching (in which the muscle you are stretching is used to hold the stretch in place) to passive stretching (which involves elongating a relaxed muscle). Ballistic stretching (although controversial) involves gently bouncing whilst the muscle is taut, whilst dynamic stretching involves shaking or swinging parts of your body to loosen them up. Jazz hands, anyone?
In order to get yourself feeling loose and limber all over, it’s a good idea to focus on all the key muscle groups during a stretching session. If you are aiming to protect yourself from injury following involvement in a particular sport, then it’s a good idea to focus on the areas you use most when exercising. Hold each stretch until you feel comfortable with it, then push a little bit harder for 15 seconds to really lengthen those muscles. Don’t push too hard though – you don’t want to end up with a nasty strain.
Yes! Stretching can be beneficial to everyone – whether you are looking to prepare your body for a gruelling fitness regime or whether you just want to stay nice and limber. Can’t touch your toes or sit in a perfect double lotus? Don’t worry – your flexibility will start to improve over time.
Stretches can be particularly helpful to those who are experiencing stiffness through age or injury – just make sure to consult your doctor first to check that your exercise routine is right for you.
Some people are naturally more flexible than others, with women tending to have greater flexibility than men.