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Stretching: Focus on flexibility
You can stretch anytime, anywhere. Just follow these tips to do it safely and effectively.By Mayo Clinic staff
Stretching may take a back seat to your exercise routine. You may think that stretching your hamstrings and calves is just something to be done if you have a few extra minutes before or after pounding out some miles on the treadmill. The main concern is exercising, not stretching, right?
Not so fast. Although studies about the benefits of stretching are mixed, stretching may help you improve your flexibility, which in turn may improve your athletic performance and decrease your risk of injury. Understand why stretching can help — and how to stretch correctly.
Benefits of stretching
Studies about the benefits of stretching have had mixed results. Some show that stretching helps, while others show that stretching has little if any benefit. The main benefits of stretching are thought to be:
- Improving athletic performance
- Decreasing the risk of activity-based injuries
Stretching can help improve flexibility. And better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion. For instance, say your Achilles tendon is tight and lacks flexibility. If you do a lot of hill walking, your foot may not move through its full range of motion. Over time, this can increase your risk of tendinitis or tendinopathy in your Achilles tendon. Stretching your Achilles tendon, though, may improve the range of motion in your ankle. This, in turn, can decrease the risk of microtrauma to your tendon that can lead to overload and injury.
Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscle. And you may come to enjoy the ritual of stretching before — or better yet, after — hitting the trail, ballet floor or soccer field.Next page
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- Herman SL, et al. Four-week dynamic stretching warm-up intervention elicits longer-term performance benefits. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2008;4:1286.
- Rancour J, et al. The effects of intermittent stretching following a 4-week static stretching protocol: A randomized trial. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009;8:2217.
- McHugh MP, et al. To stretch or not to stretch: The role of stretching in injury prevention and performance. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. 2010;20:169.
- 2008 physical activity guidelines for Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/paguide.pdf. Accessed Feb. 3, 2011.
- Beadle BB, et al. No difference in pre- and post-exercise stretching on flexibility. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2007;21:780.
- Mantic MP, et al. Injury prevention. In: McKean DB, et al. ACSM's Primary Care Sports Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2007:133.
- Laskowski ER. (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 4, 2011.