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- American Council on Exercise: Fit Facts
- American Council on Exercise: Debunking Fitness Myths; Fabio Camona
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Static Stretching Advantages
When you think of an exercise program, your mind probably visualizes aerobic movements and muscular conditioning. Stretching should be an essential component of any fitness plan, but it is often the most neglected. Static stretching is the reach-and-hold technique of stretching. Including static stretches in your fitness routine will provide your body with many advantages.
Open Your Range
One of the benefits to stretching is improved flexibility. Flexibility refers to the range of motion around a joint. Different types of stretching, including static, can increase the flexibility of your knee, hip, shoulder, and ankle joints. Enhancing your flexibility will allow you to move more freely and efficiently.
Stretch Out the Stress
Static stretching can be relaxing, both physically and mentally. The stretches you perform should be comfortable and require minimal exertion. This can give your body and brain a chance to relax. Taking deep, slow breaths is recommended while performing static stretches. For some individuals, this reduces feelings of stress. One of the side effects of stress is increased tension in the muscles. Static stretching can help alleviate this tension.
Balance Your Body
Poor flexibility in one or more muscle groups can lead to muscular imbalances or poor posture. Tight muscles pull on joints and can slowly create a shift in your body's alignment. People with muscular-skeletal imbalances appear to be more prone to injuries. Reduced range of motion can be influenced by lack of regular movement or overuse of certain muscles. For example, runners often have tight hip flexors -- the muscles that connect the front of the hip to the thigh -- and can benefit from static stretches for that muscle group.
To get the most out of your static stretching, do not stretch a cold muscle. Perform a five- to 10-minute aerobic warm-up or save your stretching for the end of your workout. Reach just beyond your typical range of motion. You should feel some tension in the muscles as you stretch, but stay within the pain-free zone. Hold each stretch for at least 15 to 30 seconds. Take slow, deep breaths while you hold the stretch and do not bounce. If time permits, repeat each stretch three to five times. Include stretches for all of your major muscle groups, but spend extra time on the muscles that feel tight or are used frequently during your day. For example, if you drive or type on a computer a lot then focus your attention on the front of your shoulders and your chest.
Christine St. Laurent holds a Master of Science in kinesiology from James Madison University. She has worked in hospital, university, sports performance and spa-based fitness and wellness centers as a personal trainer, program leader and group fitness instructor. St. Laurent has also taught college-level courses in exercise science. She is the owner of a personal-training and group-exercise studio in Manchester, Conn.