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Often overlooked, stretching is a key component to any workout.

“Stretching helps improve your range of motion or maintain your range of motion and allows you to perform everyday movements with relative ease,” says Nikki Sarkisian, program manager for Community Hospital Fitness Pointe in Munster. “It helps reduce the risk of injury during both exercise and daily activities because the muscles are more pliable, and it also helps improve athletic performance.”

According to Lisa F. Crowder, a personal trainer at Franciscan Health Fitness Centers in Schererville, stretching prepares our muscles before we put stress on them.

“Injuries are more likely when the muscles are worked out without actually warming them first,” she says. “A good dynamic warmup includes fluid movements to prepare the muscles for the actual workout.”

Allison Haugh, owner of Yoga on 45th in Highland, says stretching is important to maintain flexibility.

“As a yoga instructor, I’m a big believer in stretching,” she says.

Stretching methods differ before and after workouts.

“There are two types of stretches — dynamic or moving, and static or holding,” Sarkisian says. “Dynamic stretching increases blood flow to the muscles and improves range of motion around the joints to help reduce the risk of injury prior to exercise. Dynamic stretching prepares your body for exercise, and since the body is constantly moving during dynamic stretching, this type of stretching provides a cardio warmup as well.”

Static stretching is long-duration stretching performed after a workout.

“Static stretches should be held for 10 to 30 seconds and then repeated two to four times,” she says. “Besides being a great stress reliever, static stretching post-workout helps to reduce the risk of injury, improves flexibility and increases range of motion.”

The type of stretches recommended depends upon several factors, says Nate Lewis, exercise specialist at the Purdue Northwest Fitness Center in Hammond.

“Four or five stretches should take care of the entire body, but if someone has tight hamstrings and hips from sitting all day, they might do four to five specific stretches,” he says.

“Just like life in general, if we are going to put any type of stress on our muscles then we should also focus our attention on destressing the muscles to aid in recovery and repair,” Crowder says, noting that the National Academy of Sports Medicine recommends myofascial release for the muscles before and after each workout. “The foam roller is another tool used to stretch or release the lactic acid from the muscle tissue that builds up when we work them. It’s what causes the sore feeling one to two days after a good workout is completed.“

Typical dynamic warmup movements include high knees, rear kicks, leg swings, arm circles, step kicks, lateral lunges, side shuffles, skips, easy squats and ankle circles, Crowder says. These can be done while moving forward and backwards or standing in place. The high knees, rear kicks, shuffles and skips can be low impact. Your warmup should be at least five minutes and up to 20 minutes, depending on your workout. 

“Static stretching relaxes the muscles,” Haugh says.

Static stretching should be done for five to 10 minutes two to three days a week, Sarkisian says.

“A daily routine will increase your flexibility level at a faster rate,” she says. “It should never be painful. The stretch should bring the muscle to a point of slight tension, while continuing a normal breathing pattern. Hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat two to four times.”

Common stretches include the pike, which is good for hamstrings. To do this, says Crowder, sit with your legs stretched out in front of you and reach toward your toes.

She also suggest quadriceps stretches, which can be done using a wall for balance, standing on one leg pulling the other foot into the glutes to elongate the front of the leg. Another good shoulder stretch is reaching one arm across the body, dropping the shoulder away from the ear, and using your other hand to gently pull it closer into the body.

“Stretching is an essential part of keeping our bodies healthy and strong, and should never be ignored as part of a complete workout," Crowder says.