A surprising number of people believe stretching is a waste of time. Stretching
exercises relieve muscle tension, flush lactic acid out of your muscles (lactic
acid accumulates during high-intensity exercise, creating that “burning
sensation,” and can contribute to suboptimal muscle performance), and increase
your range of motion for longer strides and better athletic performance.
Contrary to popular belief, stretching shouldn’t be the first thing you do when you are about to work out or play a sport. In fact, stretching cold muscles can result in pulls and injuries. Your best bet is to start with a five-minute
warm-up, consisting of a shorter, less intense version of whatever activity
you’re about to engage in.
After your warm-up, take a few minutes to stretch your major muscle groups, witha particular focus on the areas you are about to train. Each stretch should last about 30 seconds. In general, there is little benefit to stretches that last aslong as 60 seconds.
Every workout should end with a brief cooldown and stretching routine. Research
indicates that if you only have time to stretch once, you should make time after
your workout, when your muscles are warm and responsive to stretching. If you’ve
done your workout right, your heart rate will be at its peak and you’ll feel
warm and tired. The cooldown lets your heart transition to its normal rate and
lets your muscles adjust out of their contracted state, which can help prevent
strain and soreness.
Now that you know the benefits of warming up, cooling down and regular
stretching, never again underestimate the importance of the first and last few minutes of your workout.
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