When is the best time to stretch and for how long?

Bob Greene
Bob Greene on behalf of The Best Life
Despite what many people think, stretching shouldn't be the very first thing you do. It's actually better to start with a short warm-up, like five minutes of jogging or jumping rope, to help loosen up your muscles, then get into your stretching routine. Probably most important is wrapping up your workout with a cool-down and some additional light stretching. Aim for about five to 10 minutes both before and after you exercise.

Ideally, you should stretch all your muscles, but if time is an issue, you should at least stretch the muscles you'll be using in your workout. So, for example, if you're going to be on the treadmill, make sure to stretch your legs and hips. Doing an upper body strength-training routine? Stretch your arms, shoulders and upper back.

I'd recommend buying an illustrated book on stretching, such as Stretching by Bob Anderson, to make sure you're using proper form. You'll want to use a static method, which involves holding all of your stretches for about 20 to 30 seconds, then relaxing for about 15 seconds or so before repeating the cycle again. Aim to do two to five sets of each stretch. And don't forget to breathe; breathing helps increase blood flow, which can make muscles more relaxed. Try to exhale through your nose as you're stretching, and inhale as you relax.

Finally, try to avoid overstretching. If you feel pain in your muscles as you're stretching or even soreness the next day, then you're probably overstretching. You should feel some tension or a gentle pull as you stretch, but if you feel any sudden or sharp pain, stop or ease up a bit. Long, gentle stretching is your best bet.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.