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Should You Stretch?

Before the start of a race you'll most likely see athletes doing their routine of stretches. It has been commonly thought that stretching before exercise will help decrease the risk of injuries. There has been new data to suggest that stretching before your workout or race does not help to prevent injuries; it can actually cause them. This is because your muscles cool off from your warm up during the time you are stretching.

Performing an aerobic warm up, then standing around stretching for 5-10 minutes negates the purpose of the warm up. The purpose of the warm up is to loosen up the muscles and to prepare your body for your workout or race. If you are racing or doing a hard work out, a good warm up should consist of a jog, starting out slowly and working your way up to a nice aerobic pace, followed by a few strides to get the heart rate and legs up to "race pace". If you are just going out for an aerobic run, then simply start out slowly and increase the pace as you go.

If you feel that something is tight, it is best to do dynamic stretches rather than static stretches during your warm up. Dynamic stretches are continuous movement whereas static stretches are 'hold' stretches. Dynamic stretches will keep the blood moving around while increasing your body's range of motion. Two good dynamic stretches to do to loosen up the hip-flexors, hamstrings, and hips are leg swings front to back, and leg swings side-to-side.

Leg swings (front to back)

To perform leg swings front to back, place your hand up against a wall or hang onto a bar and come up on the ball of your foot with your stationary leg. Swing your other leg in front and behind you, but not so forcefully that your body sways back and forth. Be careful not to hyper-extend your back. Repeat twice on each leg 15-20 times. This exercise helps stretch the hip-flexors and hamstrings.

Leg swings (side to side)

To perform legs swings side to side hang onto the wall or bar and come up onto the ball of your foot with one leg. Swing your other leg side to side without swaying your whole body. Repeat twice on each leg 15-20 times. This exercise helps stretch your adductors (inner thigh) and abductors (outer thighs).

Static stretch is still important, but it's best done after activity. Some areas you may want to focus on when you stretch are the hip flexors, hamstrings, calves and hips. These tend to tighten up if you run a lot and/or sit at a desk most of the day. The main objective is to stay flexible and injury free. Whether you do that through stretching, massage, foam rolling, Yoga or all of the above is up to you.

Leg Swings (front to back) Leg Swings (side to side)

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