Woman stretching

Why and when to stretch

Getting toned and feeling healthy are important aspects of fitness, but don't neglect stretching. Flexibility isn't just something yoga-lovers should aspire to improve. Feel better, move more easily and perform better when you make stretching and flexibility a focus.

We asked Dr. Scott Weiss, physical therapist, board-certified athletic trainer and owner of Bodhizone in New York City, for his insight into the importance of stretching.

Stretching and working out

We all know stretching is important, but what makes it such a good idea for people of all ages? There are many benefits to working toward increased flexibility, especially when you’re working out. “The body is warmer, and stretching aids in elasticity of connective tissue,” explains Weiss. “Stretching allows your joints to move through their full, normal range of motion, thus decreasing the stresses on the wrong parts of the body.” Stretching can even help you improve your technique or skill in sports.

Stretching and daily life

Even if you’re not working out regularly, stretching is still a good thing to add to your routine. “It makes sitting, standing and all postures in daily life easier,” affirms Weiss. “Stretching helps your posture and simply creates a freedom of movement.” Note, however, that there are times you shouldn’t stretch, to avoid injury or to avoid making an injury worse. “Avoid stretching when the body is cold, dehydrated or directly after an acute strain or sprain,” says Weiss. “At that time we splint or immobilize in order to promote healing immediately.”

Types of stretching

Weiss explains that there is more than one way to stretch. Three common forms of stretching include static, dynamic and passive stretching.

Static: Static stretching refers to holding a specific position or stretch at one angle. “It focuses on increasing flexibility of one or many groups,” Weiss explains. “This type of stretching is better for the elderly and making more long-term inroads into flexibility,” he says.

Dynamic: This type of stretching basically means that you are stretching as you’re moving, for example a walking lunge. “This works many muscle groups and provides a good warm-up for the body,” says Weiss. “Dynamic stretching is completed using repetitions and sets. Twenty to 30 repetitions of two to three sets is advisable.”

Passive: Passive stretching is when a therapist or trainer stretches your body for you. This type of stretching usually occurs after an injury.

Stretches to try

Some of the stretches Weiss recommends include the figure four, posterior shoulder stretch and the doorway stretch. “The prescription for flexibility is three to five times a week, holding each stretch for 30 second to two minutes,” he advises.

Figure four: Lie on your back with both legs in the air and place your right ankle on your thigh above your left knee. Reach your right hand through the space created by your right leg and grab your left hand that's reaching around the outside of your left thigh. Slowly bend your left knee. You should feel a stretch on the outside of your right hip. Repeat on the opposite side.

Posterior shoulder stretch: Standing upright, cross one arm across your body. Use your opposite arm to pull the elbow of the arm being stretched toward the opposite shoulder. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

Doorway stretch: Bend your right arm 90 degrees (as if you were going to wave at someone) and place your forearm against a door frame. Step through the doorway slightly with your right foot until you feel a comfortable stretch in your chest and the front of your shoulder. Switch arms and legs and repeat on your other side.

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