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Stretches - An Important Exercise Routine
Stretches are a very under-estimated form of light fitness training. Yet they have enormous benefits such as better flexibility, posture, coordination and balance. Indeed, much of yoga is based upon stretching-type exercises.
Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs
All fitness workouts should begin and end with light exercises. These periods, known as warm-ups and cool-downs are an important part of any exercise routine. Why? Because doing light exercises before your workout helps warm up the muscles and joints and so reduces the risk of strains. Stretching is an important part of warming-up, although you should only stretch muscles that have been warmed up with a few low-intensity exercises. See Warm-Up Exercises. After exercising, stretches help to extend the worked muscles (to avoid bulking), reduce muscle soreness and gradually lower heart rate.
How to Begin Your Stretches
Work through your whole body stretching each muscle. Most stretches should be held for between 10 and 30 seconds and, where appropriate, repeated several times on each side.
Full Body Stretch
Begin with a full body stretch. Stand with your feet apart, knees slightly bent and arms raised above your head. Reach up with your arms and stretch your whole body. Continue this by leaning to each side to stretch the oblique muscles, the upper arms and back.
Stretching Your Neck and Torso
Make a wide circle with your neck. Repeat several times. Then pivot at the waist and make a circular motion with your torso, without leaning backwards. Repeat several times. Then holding your elbows out, and keeping your hips in a fixed position, swing your upper body gently to the left, turning your head as you turn until you can see behind you. Repeat this several times on each side.
Stretching Gluteal or Butt Muscles
A variation of stretching exercises can be done to stretch the gluteal (buttocks) muscles. These include lying on your side and pulling your knee towards your torso, or lunges which also stretch the hip and inner thigh muscles.
Stretching Hamstring and Quads
Hamstring stretches, for the back of the thighs, can be done standing or seated on the floor. The foot should be flexed for maximum benefit. Hamstring stretcing will also stretch the calf muscles.
Quadricep stretches, to extend the front thigh muscles, are done by lifting one foot behind you, grasping your toes and pulling up the foot towards the buttocks.
Back Muscle Stretches
Stretching the back muscles to prevent back injuries during a workout, is especially important. Back stretches include a range of muscles such as the latissimus dorsi (the largest back muscle), the trapezius which runs along the upper back and neck area and the rear deltoids. Before you begin your workout, pay special attention to the lower back muscles (erector spinae) area. A simple stretching exercise for the back is lying on on the floor, knees raised towards the chest and rotate the lower half of the body from side to side. This lower back stretch will strengthen the area.
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