Because stretching cold muscles can lead to injury, it’s best to stretch after your muscles have been adequately warmed up — either at the end of your workout or after you’ve completed your warm-up. Stretching at the end of your workout can be a good way to cool down. Stretch several times a week for maximum benefit, and include stretches that work all major muscle groups. As you stretch, keep these guidelines in mind:
- Hold each stretch for 30 seconds.
- Never bounce as you stretch.
- Extend the muscle to the point where you feel mild tension and hold that position. Don’t extend the muscle to the point that you feel pain.
- Don’t hold your breath. Breathe deeply and freely through your nose.
Stretches the Achilles tendon and calf
Stand in front of a wall. Put your hands against the wall with your elbows almost straight. Keeping your left knee slightly bent, step back a foot or two with your right leg, positioning the heel and foot flat on the floor. You should feel the stretch in your calf and Achilles tendon. If not, move your right leg back a bit farther. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
For your thighs
Get in a sprinter’s starting position, with your rear knee on the floor and your front foot flat on the floor. Place your hands at the sides of your front foot. Gradually straighten your back knee as you lift up on your toes and bend forward. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch to the other side.
Stretches the front of the thigh
Stand in front of a wall so you can touch it for balance if necessary. Keep one leg straight while you bend your other knee and grasp your ankle to pull your heel up toward your buttock. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.
Stretches the inner thigh
Sit on a mat with your knees bent and pointing outward, and your feet together. Draw your feet close to your body. Holding your shins or feet with your hands, bend your upper body forward and press your knees down with your elbows. Hold for 30 seconds.
For your lower back
Lie on your back with both legs extended. Bring one knee up to your chest, pulling it with your hands as you curl your head toward your knee. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch to the other side.
Stretches the back of the thigh
Stand far enough behind a chair so that you can hold it while bending over at the hips until your torso is parallel to the floor. Try to keep your back and shoulders straight so that you feel the stretch in the back of your thighs. Hold for 30 seconds.
For your upper back and shoulders
Rest on your knees, then lower your head and reach forward with one arm and then the other. Both arms will be stretched out in front of you. Hold for 30 seconds.
Stretches the triceps and upper back
Bend your right arm behind your neck, pointing your elbow toward the ceiling. Grasp your elbow with your left hand. Pull the raised right elbow gently toward the left until you feel a mild stretch at the back of your upper right arm. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the left arm.
Originally published Oct. 1, 2008; last reviewed April 26, 2011.
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