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What is Stretching?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Stretching is the most important part of any workout or physical activity, as it prepares the muscles for the strain that is to come. It also helps the muscles stay limber after a workout, and practicing it regularly can help prevent injuries and promote flexibility and strength. When the muscles are stretched, they are extended to a resistance point and held there momentarily. This helps the muscles, but it also helps joints by keeping them moving freely.

The most common form is resistance stretching, in which the muscle is engaged while simultaneously lengthening. An example is a calf stretch, in which the user will lift the ball of the foot onto a raised platform and drop the heel. The muscle is engaged by pushing against the raised block or platform, but it is also elongating as the user leans forward and the calf muscles stretch. Most stretching done before and after exercise is this type, as it is one of the simplest and safest ways to stretch without over-straining muscles.

Stretching the back and hamstrings.
Stretching the back and hamstrings.

In the past, static stretches were the most commonly practiced before sporting events or physical activity. This meant that the user would stretch the body while it was at rest, and the muscles were simply elongated. While static stretches are still commonly used today both before and after sporting events, dynamic stretching is far more common because it is more effective at preparing the muscles for use and stimulating oxygen flow to muscles. Dynamic stretches are done by actively using the muscles in a gentle, swinging motion. A common example of such a stretch is the leg swing, in which the user will gently swing one leg back and forth, extending the leg further each time to stretch a variety of muscles in the limb and lower back. Such stretches should be done relatively slowly and without a jerky motion to prevent injury.

Woman stretching her sides.
Woman stretching her sides.

Doing stretches is a vital part of any workout and should be an important part of any normal day. It promotes a healthy range of motion and prevents muscles from tearing or straining under normal conditions, as well as in the event of a sudden movement. It promotes oxygen movement through the body as well as blood flow, and it can help the body feel healthier and stronger with minimal effort.

Discussion Comments


I love doing stretches after a workout. I know it sounds strange, and when I'm getting started I sometimes don't really want to do them, but once I've got most of them done, I really start to feel good.

I don't seem to get that kick of euphoria unless I do the stretches. I'm not sure if it's my body rewarding me for making sure I'm not sore the next day or what.

@BambooForest - Actually, it's not because your muscles are cold and you try to stretch them that increases the risk of injury. Although they don't really recommend stretching without a short warm-up, you can stretch at any time without having to exercise.

They think stretching before a workout can increase injuries because it makes the muscles too loose and too likely to overstretch or go the wrong way while they are being vigorously used.

It's interesting how many things are taken for granted in different sports fads. A couple of decades ago I would never have questioned the need to do stretching exercises before a workout and now it turns out that it was basically the opposite of what you should do.

I have benefited greatly from yoga. It's basically just a bunch of challenging stretches that you hold for longer than you would most stretches.

You work on your breathing while you are stretching, and it is a good stress reliever. Plus, it makes you more flexible.

I type all day long, so I have to do some stretching exercises with my wrists and hands to keep from getting carpal tunnel syndrome. Just flexing my hands upward and downward and holding the positions for awhile a few times a day makes a difference.

I also stretch my neck by holding my head down for ten seconds and then to each side for the same amount of time. This makes for less sore muscles and neck cramps.

When I was a teenager, I could get away with skipping stretching exercises altogether. Now that I'm in my thirties, I get really uptight and achy if I don't do them.

I have to stretch a little both before and after my daily brisk walks. I just can't get going if I don't.

If I stretch too far and hurt a muscle, I put a warm compress on it. This will relax it and take away the tension.

@BambooForest – Yes, it is a little painful for me to stretch before doing a workout. I find that just walking in place for a couple of minutes before starting my aerobics video is enough to warm me up.

After the workout, stretching feels good. If I don't stretch and just go about my daily routine, I sometimes get leg cramps or feel a weird tingling sensation all over.

Even if you don't want to follow a predetermined routine of long stretches after working out, you can benefit from just a few simple stretches that anyone is capable of doing. I just do a few stretches and hold them for about twenty seconds each, and I'm good to go.

I just got pregnant and a friend of mine recommended that I do stomach stretching. Has anyone heard of this before? Does it work?
I would like to get into a stretching routine but I want to make sure that I am doing things correctly. I know that there are few stretches that you should avoid entirely, and others that you have to have proper form for or risk injury. Can anyone point me towards a good resource that has stretching exercises with pictures?
I stretch for about 20 minutes every evening. It feels great and it has done wonders for my overall health.

I start with the neck, move my way down to the back and arms and finish with about 10 minutes dedicated to my legs. I haven't been this limber since I was a kid and my joints and muscles feel better than ever. I used to really hurt after a long run or a hard workout but since I started stretching that pain has vanished.


One of the other benefits of stretching, apart from improving exercise and preventing injury, is the improvement of posture. Most people these days have moderately poor, if not extremely poor, posture; just a few basic stretches added to your daily routine can improve your posture and help the spine and other muscles to feel more natural, preventing pain in these areas and giving you more energy.


In the past it was also believed that stretching before a workout was the best idea, though now research shows that stretching before a workout, when your muscles are "cold", can actually increase injury risk; it is not generally recommended to stretch after a workout instead, or to at least warm up for a few minutes before doing any stretching exercises.

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    • Stretching the back and hamstrings.
      By: Shuva Rahim
      Stretching the back and hamstrings.
    • Woman stretching her sides.
      By: laurent hamels
      Woman stretching her sides.
    • Stretching after waking up.
      By: Monika Wisniewska
      Stretching after waking up.
    • A woman stretching.
      By: WONG SZE FEI
      A woman stretching.
    • Stretching is an important part of any workout.
      By: robert lerich
      Stretching is an important part of any workout.
    • Regular stretching helps maintain flexibility.
      By: WavebreakMediaMicro
      Regular stretching helps maintain flexibility.
    • Static stretches are commonly practiced before any physical activity.
      By: Andres Rodriguez
      Static stretches are commonly practiced before any physical activity.
    • Static stretching is when a person positions her body in a stretch and then holds it for a time.
      By: bonninturina
      Static stretching is when a person positions her body in a stretch and then holds it for a time.