Stretch for Flexibility

Warming up your muscles by stretching prior to exercise can help you improve your flexibility and avoid injury. Muscle strains and tears can be painful. A torn muscle or ligament may take weeks to heal, and in some cases, may even require surgery and rehabilitation. Take care of your muscles before exercising by performing about 10 minutes of stretching exercises. Stretching after a workout is a good way to cool down and relax your muscles.
Sit on the floor and spread your legs slightly. Keep your back straight and your chin down as you reach forward toward  your left foot. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Slowly return to an upright position and repeat on the right side. Next, stretch the muscles of your upper back by pulling your knees toward your chest. Lie on your back and put your feet flat on the floor by bending your knees. Grab one knee with your hands and gently pull your knee toward your chest. Stop when you feel the muscles in your lower back stretching. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and then repeat with the other knee. 
Photo Credit: José Vílchez, CC-BY-SA-3.0 2008
Stretch your calf muscles by standing parallel to a wall or holding onto a sturdy chair. Put your left foot behind the right and keep your right foot flat on the floor. Keep your back straight and then slowly bend your right knee to lower your body toward the floor a few inches. Bend your knee as far as you can without causing pain and hold the position for up to 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat the stretch. 
Playing golf, tennis, handball and racquetball can result in a torn rotator cuff if you over-exert. A rotator cuff injury is painful and may require weeks of rehabilitative exercise to repair. You may avoid a rotator cuff injury by warming up with some shoulder stretches prior to exercise. To stretch your shoulder and increase flexibility, cross your right arm over your chest and hold it with your left hand just above the elbow. Gently pull your arm toward the left side of your body until you feel the muscles stretch. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat with the other arm. 
Improve your posture, increase the flexibility and strengthen the muscles in your upper back by stretching your shoulders. Stand up straight with your legs apart about shoulder width. Keep your arms relaxed at your side and the squeeze your shoulder blades together. Pull your arms back and bend your elbows slightly. Hold the stretch for 25 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat this stretch two or three times.
Leg muscles are susceptible to muscle and tendon injury if you run or jog. Stretch your hamstrings by lying on the floor with your feet near a wall.  Raise your right leg and put your heel against the wall. Keep your right knee slightly bent. Push against the wall to straighten out your right leg. You should feel the hamstring along the back of your thigh stretch. Hold the position for 20 seconds and then switch sides. Next, stretch the quadriceps muscles of your legs. Lean against a wall or hold onto a sturdy chair or table with one hand. Grab your ankle with the other hand and pull your foot toward your buttocks until you feel the muscles in the front of your thigh begin to pull and stretch. Keep your upper body straight and try to avoid slouching or leaning forward. Squeeze your abdominal muscles to help keep your body erect. Return to a standing position after about 30 seconds and then stretch the other leg.
Stretching should not cause pain. If you feel pain during a stretch, reduce the intensity of the stretch and see a doctor if soreness or swelling occur. 
For more information and stretching exercises, see:
Mayo Clinic, Stretching: Focus on Flexibility, February 2011.

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