Who Should Stretch?

Those who lift weights should spot stretch between lifts to elongate muscles, prevent soreness and injury, and improve circulation. For stretches between exercises, holding a mere 15-20 seconds is sufficient, this is called stretching for recovery. After cardio or at the end of a lifting session, a more complete stretching routine is in order to improve flexibility. The most effective stretches begin with the largest muscles: quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, hip flexors, calves and low back after leg day or cardio; upper back, chest, shoulders, biceps and triceps on upper body days or after swimming or racquet sports. Of course, so long as muscles are warm when stretched, it is better to stretch too many muscles than too few. Hold end of workout stretches for 30-60 seconds each. Don’t wear a watch? No problem. Sing “Happy Birthday” or the ABCs through twice...that’s about the right amount of time to hold a stretch.
When Should One Stretch?

A stretch is the mindful lengthening of a muscle. Being aware and making sure not to hold the breath while stretching is important since the blood and oxygen need to work together to ensure recovery in the muscle. Between exercises and after exercise are both appropriate times to stretch. Never stretch before warming up. Wait at least three to five minutes after warming up and/or working out before stretching. Stretching a cold muscle can actually increase risk of injury. Also, avoid “locking” joints. Make sure there is a slight bend in the knee or elbow for the duration of the stretch. Otherwise, one risks taking the focus off the muscle and placing it in the joint. Stretching is supposed to protect joints by allowing for full range of motion after loosening stiff muscles.
Where Should One Stretch?

Please, find a place out of the way. Avoid walkways between pieces of equipment, high traffic areas, the railing of the track, and remaining on a piece of equipment. In these locations it is easy to feel rushed, conspicuous, or annoyed. Move to the side of the track, the grass, an empty room, or a designated stretching area.
Why Should One Stretch?

Stretching provides the opportunity to return the muscle to its original pre-workout length. Lifting and training cause muscles to respond by contracting and sometimes becoming engorged with blood. Stretching has been shown to alleviate the stress this causes within the muscle and the joint. It further reduces the likelihood of injury and soreness by releasing the pooled blood, lengthening tired fibers, and allowing re-oxygenation of the muscle
When stretching between exercises, stretch the muscle just worked. After the bench press, stretch the chest. After squats, stretch the quads, glutes, and hamstrings. For post-workout stretching, work from large to small muscles and hold for 30-60 seconds. Stretch glutes, low back, hamstrings, quadriceps first; then upper back, hip flexors, calves, chest, shoulders, triceps, and biceps, for example. Stretch the neck as well but very gently. Never put pressure on the neck and never “roll” the head to the back. Put an ear on the same-side shoulder, roll forward placing chin to chest, and then repeat the ear to shoulder on the other side.

For optimal health and safety, add a brief stretch to each workout. Most find they feel more relaxed both mentally and physically. Many find they are injured less often and seem to recover from bouts of exercise more quickly. Once results from stretching are achieved, check out Pilates or yoga to further improve flexibility and functional strength. New exercisers should find a group fitness instructor or personal trainer to help develop a routine that is appropriate.