Stretching is an important part of any fitness program. Before physical activity or any kind of sporting event, it loosens muscles, allows for better movement and reduces your risk of injury. Incorporate the two types of stretches -- dynamic and static -- into your regular workout. Dynamic stretches involve slow and controlled movements through a complete range of motion, and should be specific to the exercise you are about to do. Static stretches apply force to a muscle and are held for 15 to 30 seconds at a time.
Video of the Day
The three components to an overall fitness program are cardiovascular or aerobic activity, strength training and flexibility training -- or stretching. The American Council on Exercise recommends that a fitness program include 30 minutes of stretching three times a week. Stretch before and after physical activity to minimize injury and soreness. Before stretching for any reason, warm up your muscles for five to 10 minutes to prevent injury. A short walk while swinging your arms can work as a warmup.
Perform dynamic stretches before a workout to prepare the muscles you plan to use. For example, do arm swings to stretch and loosen your arm muscles before an upper-body weight-training session. To perform arm swings, stand with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Swing both arms in a complete, overhead rotation six to 10 times. After completing the overhead rotations, cross your arms over your chest, swing them out to your sides, then cross them over your chest again six to 10 times.
Perform static stretches after an athletic activity. Static stretches provide a slow cool-down period for your muscles and will help reduce soreness. To perform a static shoulder stretch, stand straight with your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Position your left arm across your chest so it is parallel with the floor. Place your right hand under the left elbow and move the arm closer to your chest until you feel your shoulder stretch. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat with the right arm.
Avoid stretching cold muscles as this increases the risk of injury. Avoid bouncing a stretch. It is better to hold a stretch or move in a slow, controlled way to minimize the risk of injury. Finally, listen to your body and don't push a muscle too far. If it hurts, stop.