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Most people think that stretching is just something to be done if you have a few extra minutes after you have done some exercise. Your main focus is on getting the exercise done and if you have time you might do a couple of stretches, am I right?

Well if these are your thoughts you are wrong. Stretching may help you improve your flexibility, which may improve your athletic performance and reduce your risk of injury. It is important to understand why stretching can help — and how to stretch correctly.

The main benefits of stretching are thought to be improving athletic performance and 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. Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscles.

Before you throw yourself into stretching, make sure you do it safely and effectively. Stretching incorrectly can actually do more harm than good.

Get Warm First
Don’t think stretching is a warmup, you may hurt yourself if you stretch cold muscles. So before stretching, warm up with light walking or jogging for five minutes or so. It’s better to stretch after you exercise when your muscles are warmed up.

Focus on the major muscles
You should focus on major muscle groups. Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use. Also make sure that you stretch both sides. If you stretch you’re left calve, be sure to stretch your right calve, too.

Don’t go Ballistic
Bouncing as you stretch can cause small tears in the muscle. These tears leave scar tissue as the muscle heals, which tightens the muscle even further, making you less flexible and more prone to pain. So, hold each stretch for about 30 seconds.

Don’t Kill Yourself
Expect to feel tension while you’re stretching, not pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far. A good way to stretch safely would be to rate each stretch out of 10, 10 would be your maximum so aim for 7 or 8 out of 10.

Keep the Routine Up
Keep up with your stretching. Stretching can be time-consuming, but you can achieve the best results by stretching regularly. If you don’t stretch regularly, you risk losing any of the results that you achieved. If stretching helped you increase your range of motion, and you stop stretching, your range of motion may decrease again.

Finally, don’t think that because you stretch you can’t get injured. Stretching won’t prevent an overuse injury. So follow the guidelines above and you should be on your way to a more flexible you. Who knows you may come to enjoy the ritual of stretching after a workout!

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