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Stretching is a critical part of any workout. Stretches should be done both before and after exercising. It helps to prevent injury while exercising, and to aid in recovery after a workout.

Stretching is also a good way to help increase your flexibility and reduce some of the physical effects of stress.

It's good to stretch all the major muscle groups in your body regardless of which area your workout will focus on. However, you should concentrate most of your stretching on the areas that you will primarily be using in your workout. For example, if you are going to be running, you should do several different types of leg stretches, but you should also stretch your
shoulders, neck and sides.

Never bounce while stretching. Move into and out of each stretch slowly and fluidly, and hold each stretch steadily for at least ten seconds.

You might feel some slight discomfort in the area being stretched, but if it is painful stop immediately. Each person is built differently and has different flexibility levels. Never push your body further than it can comfortably and safely go.

Some sample stretches:

Upper Body Stretches

Neck Stretch - This is a four count stretch. Lift your head to a neutral position between each count; do not roll your neck.

  1. Put your chin to your chest, and let gravity pull the weight of your head forward. You should feel the stretch in the back of your neck.
  2. Let your head drop to the right toward your shoulder. Again, let gravity pull the weight of your head down. You will feel the stretch in the left side of your neck.
  3. Drop your head to the back, so that you are looking up. You should feel the stretch in the front of your neck.
  4. Finally, let your head fall toward the left shoulder, so that you feel the stretch on the right side of your neck.

Shoulder Stretch - Take your right hand and, going over your shoulder, place it as far down your back as possible. Place your left hand on your right elbow and push backward. You should feel the stretch in your right shoulder area. Switch arms and repeat.

Upper Arm Stretch - Cross your right arm across your chest toward your left side, keeping your elbow straight. With the inside of your left elbow or your left hand, push your right arm back toward your body. You should feel the stretch in your right upper arm and shoulder. Switch arms and repeat.

Upper Back Stretch - Clasp your hands together in front of your body. Straighten your elbows, keeping your hands clasped and your palms facing outward. Let your shoulders shift forward, and push your hands out away from your body. You should feel a stretch in your upper back area.

Chest Stretch - Clasp your hands together behind your back, with your palms together. Keeping your elbows straight, lift your hands out and up behind you as far as possible. You should be able to feel the stretch in your shoulders and chest. For a deeper stretch, bend over at the waist, with your arms above you and elbows still straight. Let gravity pull your arms as far as possible. Slowly stand up and release your hands.

Abdomen Stretch - Clasp your hands together above your head. Straighten your arms up as much as possible, and pull your hands away from your body. You may bend back slightly to deepen the stretch. You should feel the stretch in your abdomen area.

Side Stretch - Clasp your hands together over your head with your arms slightly bent. Facing forward, bend to the right at the waist. You should feel the stretch on the right side of your torso. Return to the standing position with your hands above your head, and do the same to the left.

Lower Back Stretch - Start in a seated position, with your legs out in front of you. Bend your right knee to a 90 degree angle, and place your right foot on the outer side of your left leg so that your right leg is crossed over your left. Your left leg should remain straight. Twist your torso to the right, placing your left elbow on the outside of your right knee. Push your elbow against your knee as leverage to deepen the stretch if possible. You should feel the stretch in your lower back. Release and switch sides.

Lower Body Stretches

Hamstring Stretch - Stand with your feet slightly apart (about 6 inches). Bend over at the waist and let your upper body hang down. Reach your hands toward the ground. You can bend your knees slightly. For a deeper stretch, grasp your calves and gently pull your upper body toward your legs. You should feel the stretch in your hamstring area, or the back of your thighs.

Thigh Stretch - Stand with your feet slightly apart. Bend your right foot back and up toward your buttocks, and grasp it with your right hand. Balancing on your left leg, pull your right foot up with your right hand. To help you balance, pick a stationary spot in front of you to stare at and lift your free arm out to the side. You should feel the stretch in your thigh. Release and switch sides.

Calf Stretch - Stand with right leg straight and behind you. Your left leg should be bent in front of you. Place most of your weight onto your left leg. Push the heel of your right foot down toward the ground, and slightly shift your weight back keeping your torso upright. You should feel a stretch in your right calf. For a deeper stretch, you can face a wall and push against it for leverage. Release and repeat on the opposite side.

Groin Stretch - Sit with your feet in front of you. Place the bottoms of your feet together, and let your knees fall to the sides. Grasp your ankles and pull your feet toward you, as close as possible. While holding your ankles, place your elbows on the inside of your knees and push them down. You should feel the stretch in your groin area.

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