Today’s contribution is by Nick DiCarlo ACMS Certified Exercise Physiologist   Stretching is an area that commonly gets neglected by many exercisers. This is unfortunate as stretching is an important component to muscular health; we should both strengthen and stretch all major muscles groups in our bodies, so we can have strong and full range of motion in all our joints.  The difficulty is that it takes time, and it is not easy to discipline ourselves to take the time in our workouts to stretch when we’d rather spend time doing a few more minutes of another activity. I encourage you to take this time, however and incorporate stretching into both the warm-up and cool-down phases of your workouts. You may be surprised at how much this can improve the quality of your workout, as well as leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed at its conclusion.  It is helpful to distinguish between different types of stretching, and when to do each one. All stretching, however, should be done after already being “warmed up” to prevent injury by stretching a cold muscle. To achieve this at the beginning of a workout, do some gentle joint rotations for all major joints followed by a general warm up via some type of aerobic activity. Next, perform some dynamic (involving movement) stretches. An example of a dynamic stretch is pulling one knee towards your chest, holding it briefly to stretch the back of your upper leg, and then releasing the knee to lower your foot back to the ground. You would then do the same thing with your other leg. Another example is to step into a forward lunge position and, once you’re at the bottom of the lunge, reaching up toward the ceiling and holding briefly to stretch the front of your upper leg and your abdomen, and then bringing your arms back down and bringing the rear foot up as you come out of the lunge. You would then step forward with the other leg. Try to perform a series of dynamic stretches that involve all the major muscle groups of the body (ask your Travel Agent for help with this if needed). The purpose of the dynamic stretches isn’t what most people think of when they think of “stretching”. Dynamic stretches do indeed cause the muscle to stretch, but rather than holding the muscle in this stretch like when doing static stretching, you move through the range of motion gently to help prepare the muscle for a given activity. After your bout of exercise or athletic event, your muscles should already be warm. You may need to take some time to allow your heart rate to slow down prior to moving into your static stretches. Walking, or another type of aerobic activity done at a low intensity, for a few minutes is a good way to do this. Afterwards, you are ready to do your static stretches. For these stretches, it can be helpful to be fully supported (sitting or lying on the ground) to allow your muscles to really relax. During these stretches you should relax into each stretch until you reach the point of mild discomfort, but not pain. Remember to breath, preferably from your belly rather than your chest. It is more difficult to remember to breathe during static stretches than dynamic; the movement in dynamic stretches makes breathing come more naturally. Hold the stretch until you feel the discomfort lessen, and then you can slowly move a little farther into the stretch. This requires patience and attentiveness to the sensations you are experiencing while stretching. It is common that we think that we’ve relaxed a muscle only to realize after a few seconds that it is still maintaining tension. Again, you should perform static stretches for all major muscle groups, or at least for the primary muscles that were trained during your workout. The amount of time to hold each stretch can vary; the important thing is not to rush into a stretch and push too far, too quickly, or to come out of the stretch too quickly either. Give these suggestions and try, and ask your Travel Agent for help if needed!