Stretching Exercises

When done properly, stretching exercises can do more than just increase flexibility. Benefits of stretching include:

enhanced physical fitness
enhanced ability to learn and perform skilled movements
increased mental and physical relaxation
enhanced development of body awareness
reduced risk of injury to joints, muscles, and tendons
reduced muscular soreness
reduced muscular tension
increased suppleness due to stimulation of the production of chemicals which lubricate connective tissues (see section Connective Tissue)
reduced severity of painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea) in females

Unfortunately, even those who do a lot of stretching exercises do not always stretch properly and hence do not reap some or all of these benefits. Some of the most common mistakes made when stretching are:

improper warm-up
inadequate rest between workouts
performing the wrong stretching exercises
performing exercises in the wrong (or sub-optimal) sequence

Some of the things to consider before starting any stretching exercises are listed below.

Warming Up
Cooling Down
Elements of a Good Stretch
Some Risky Stretches
Breathing During Stretching
When to Stretch
Stretching With a Partner
Stretching to Increase Flexibility
Pain and Discomfort
Performing Splits
Warming Up

Stretching is not warming up! It is, however, a very important part of warming up. Warming up is quite literally the process of "warming up" (i.e., raising your core body temperature). A proper warm-up should raise your body temperature by one or two degrees Celsius (1.4 to 2.8 degrees Fahrenheit) and is divided into three phases:

general warm-up
sport-specific activity

It is very important that you perform the general warm-up before you stretch. It is not a good idea to attempt to stretch before your muscles are warm (something which the general warm-up accomplishes).

Warming up can do more than just loosen stiff muscles; when done properly, it can actually improve performance. On the other hand, an improper warm-up, or no warm-up at all, can greatly increase your risk of injury from engaging in athletic activities. It is important to note that active stretches and isometric stretches should not be part of your warm-up because they are often counterproductive. The goals of the warm-up are an increased awareness, improved coordination, improved elasticity and contractibility of muscles, and a greater efficiency of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems." Active stretches and isometric stretches do not help achieve these goals because they are likely to cause the stretched muscles to be too tired to properly perform the athletic activity for which you are preparing your body.

The general warm-up is divided into two parts:

joint rotations
aerobic activity

These two activities should be performed in the order specified above.

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