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How to Stretch Enough to Reduce Pain and Prevent Injury

Kenna works with doctors and natural healthcare professionals. Her experience as a fitness instructor helps her share positive health tips.


Start the Day Off Right

Stretching in the morning before starting your day is ideal and highly recommended by physical therapists worldwide. Physical therapist David Nolan of Massachusetts General Hospital encourages his patients to stretch. Doing so in the morning prevents low back pain and increases blood circulation.

"A lot of people don't understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily."

— David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

Stretching as Part of Your Workout

Getting our workouts in every week is a victory we all would like to achieve. Trying to fit our workouts into our busy social life and daily living can be a real challenge. Furthermore, we even need to push ourselves a little further by doing each exercise the right way with plenty of time to stretch before and after the workout.

According to Michael J. Alter, author of Sport Stretch: 311 Stretches for 41 Sports:

"The benefits of taking the time to stretch before and after your workout enhance physical fitness and sports performance — keep our muscles healthy. It increases mental and physical relaxation and develops body awareness. But, to gain all these rightful benefits, we must stretch our bodies — the right way — gradually and carefully."

Warm muscles help the overall conditioning of the body. In general, muscles stretch better when they are warm.


Warm Up Before Stretching

Now that you know you should stretch before your workout, you also need to warm your body up before stretching. Warming up the muscles helps the body's overall conditioning, in general, so your muscles stretch better when they are warm.

Before stretching, whether in the morning or before a workout, you need to get your body moving and get your blood pumping. Warm muscles stretch better. You can walk around the house or go outside and move the body to warm it up.

Before a regular workout, you set aside five to ten minutes of aerobic conditioning, such as energetic walking, light jogging, or jumping rope.

Truthfully, ten minutes of light aerobic activity is best. The idea is that the increased blood flow to the muscles raises your core body temperature. It improves muscle performance and flexibility while it reduces the likelihood of injury. You don’t want to get injured.

How Stretching Works

Focus on the idea that each stretch you perform should be for one muscle area. You focus on isolating each muscle as you stretch in a slow, relaxed, static stretching.

It allows your muscles to reduce tension gradually, focusing on the area you are stretching. Your body will experience resistance from fewer muscle groups, getting a better and more effective stretch in the intended area. With this method, you gain better control over the extension of your stretch, and you can readily change its intensity.

Melissa Joulwan, a certified fitness instructor and triathlete, states:

"If we try to lengthen the muscle too quickly or forcefully, it responds with a reflexive contraction -- it shortens the muscle in a protective response to the stress, so the muscle is tightened, rather than relaxed. To get the most out of your stretch, begin the exercise gently and hold it in place."

The length of time you hold your stretch varies from different sources. The most common practice is maintaining the stretch for 10–15 seconds before your workout.

After your workout, which is called the "cooling-off period," you can hold your stretches for up to 30 seconds when you stretch.

Bouncing up and down as you stretch hurts the body. It tightens the muscle and causes pain and injury. If done correctly, stretching never causes pain.


Stretching Techniques

Before or after a workout, the following steps will help you stretch:

  • When starting the exercise, take a good deep breath in and slowly release the breath as you gradually relax into the stretch position.
  • The proper way to breathe is to inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the abdomen, not the chest.
  • Hold the breath for a moment, then exhale slowly through the nose or mouth.
  • You then relax further into the stretch and feel the tension in the muscle melt away.
  • The breath should be natural, and the diaphragm and abdomen should remain soft.
  • There should be no force of breath.

Five Areas to Stretch

According to Joulman, no matter what your sport or fitness activity is, there are five major body segments to be stretched for optimal fitness:

  1. Shoulders and Back
  2. Arms
  3. Chest
  4. Hips
  5. Legs

You start with your back, followed by your upper body and lower body.

How Yoga Relates to Stretching

Some think of yoga as stretching and relaxing, so they are not prone to physical injury, like low-back pain, and are not as stressed as before starting the practice. Some yoga instructors are okay with this concept and encourage their students to continue practicing the discipline.

The belief is that yoga originated in Indus Valley, South Asia, based on archeological confirmation associated with a figure in a familiar yoga pose, dated close to 3000 B.C.

Because yoga helps the body relax and be flexible, evidence proves that those who practice the discipline are healthier and stress-free. Thus, they are less prone to sickness and body aliments. Followers report healing themselves by continuing yoga through a significant illness like cancer or through times of emotional distress like a substantial loss.

Most success stories relating to yoga acknowledge the instructors or teachers of the discipline, so keep in mind to find a teacher you feel optimistic about in all facets of learning the subject.

I see yoga as solely a way to stretch and keep the body flexible, so I am not prone to injury when I play sports or spend a lot of time working in front of my computer.

Ideal World

"In an ideal world, we'd all have time to start the day with a lovely warm-up and a half-hour of uninterrupted stretching. In the real world, lots of people skip out of the stretching at the end of aerobics classes, and we run, run, run, right from the running path to the shower and off to work, without taking (the) necessary cool-down time. Minimally, you should stretch twice a week to keep your muscles limber and your mind relaxed," concluded Joulman.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 Kenna McHugh


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 15, 2018:

Hi Kenna, its okay. Thanks and bye.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on February 15, 2018:

I have not been able to find this online. In all, I am pretty sure it was published in a hard copy fit magazine for a medical office.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on February 13, 2018:

The article was published in a hard copy magazine some time ago. I don't think it is online anywhere. If I come across it, I will let you know and send you a link. Thank you for asking about it, though.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 13, 2018:

Hi Kenna, I would like to read the article. But where is the link?

Thank you, and happy hubbing.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 10, 2018:

Thank you. I would like the read the story. I think it will relax all my joint and muscles too! Where is the link anyway?

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on January 31, 2018:

Hi Kenna, not just instructors, but sports persons too. I read long ago a sports person was ask if he always stretch before and after, and what is the benefit. His answer is in the negative and he did not consider stretching so vital. The message goes viral online and is now a study. So it becomes easy for many to ignore stretching exercises.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on January 31, 2018:


I agree. Instructors and fitness trainers need to set a good example. I wrote an article some time ago called Life is Too Short Not to Stretch. LOL! Of course, I was being sarcastic.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on January 30, 2018:

Hi Kenna, the problem is that people are in a hurry most of the time to do their exercises before stretching.

Breathing exercises to are always were neglected before stretching.

I think their sports instructors are not helping matters.

Kenna McHugh (author) from Northern California on January 26, 2018:

Miebakagh57, Thank you for visiting my article and reading it. I used to be a fitness consultant and stress the importance of stretching. Warming up is key. Yet, I still see very little attention placed on stretching unless it's a yoga or pilates class.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on January 25, 2018:

This is a good article on stretching exercise.

I like the part you stress about warming up the muscles and joints before the main exercise.

From experience, it conditions me to prevent any accident or injury to my body.

Thank you, and keep it up.