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Stretching: The Basics

Stretching should be included as part of any exercise regime.  Stretching improves flexibility, reduces our risk for injury and lower back pain, enhances sports performance and allows the body to move with greater ease through daily activities.  Our muscles can be thought of as elastic bands, that move through both concentric and eccentric contractions.  A concentric contraction is the phase that muscles go through resulting in shortening of the muscle, where as eccentric contractions result in muscle lengthening.

When lifting a heavy load the muscle contracts, tightens and essentially shortens in length.  The reverse happens when we relax or extend our muscles.  When we exercise our muscles are often in the contraction phase to perform required movements.  Without proper stretching the muscle fibers would remain tight and at greater risk for injury.

You can see now why stretching is so important, especially before and after exercising.  Whether it be to “limber-up” for a sporting event or physical day at the office, or stretch out after vigorous activity, our muscles require ongoing manipulation to stay in good condition.  Stretching should always be performed with control, no bouncing and each movement held for 15-30 seconds.  This is the amount of time it takes the brain to signal the muscle to relax and will provide the most benefit.  There are many ways to stretch the body including dynamic movements (stretches while moving), static movements (stretching in a fixed pose) as well as yoga and Pilates.  Try incorporating stretching into your daily life and feel the difference it makes!

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