Stretching: It’s Not Just for Intense Workouts Anymore

What do running, shoveling snow and sitting at your office desk have in common? These are all activities that you should not begin until you’ve stretched properly.

I know. Stretching before basic yard or office work sounds like overkill. But stretching can help you avoid aching muscles and painful injuries. In fact, you should consider stretching before many daily activities, including gardening, computer work or other repetitive stress tasks (i.e., line work at a factory).

Most people know to stretch before aerobic exercises (running, biking, swimming and hiking) and anaerobic exercises (weight lifting, sprints and downhill skiing), but they often forget to stretch before these other daily activities. And these activities are a frequent cause of injury.

Stretching can improve flexibility and posture, decrease stress on muscles and tendons, promote relaxation of muscles, help decrease lactic acid build-up in the muscles and promote joint conservation. Without stretching, you run the risk of straining or tearing your muscles, tendonitis, joint irritation or delayed onset of muscle soreness.

So, how do you stretch properly?

A good rule of thumb is to stretch your muscles until you feel a “gentle” pull. Do not stretch to the point of pain, as that will be counterproductive. Once you feel the pull, maintain the stretch for about 30 seconds. Repeat this three to five times. Stretching should be done after a short 5- to 10-minute warm-up, such as walking, prior to the activity and then again after the activity. Stretching post-activity will help decrease lactic acid build-up and decrease muscle soreness.

Here are some stretches that you can try:

  • Cervical spine stretch – Gently grasp the right side of your head while reaching behind your back with your other hand. Tilt your head away until a gentle stretch is felt. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
  • Lower cervical spine stretch – Clasp your hands together in front of your body with your arms extended. Gently pull your shoulder blades apart and bend your head forward. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Quadriceps stretch – Lie on the floor on your right side. Pull your left heel in toward your bottom until a comfortable stretch is felt in the front of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Hamstring stretch – Place your right foot on a stool. Slowly lean forward, keeping your back straight, until stretch is felt in the back of your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Back stretch – Sit in a chair with your knees spread apart. Bend forward to the floor. A comfortable stretch should be felt in your lower back. Hold for 30 seconds.

Remember, whether you’re running a 5K or typing a 500-word blog entry, it’s important to stretch to avoid injury.

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