Wednesday, April 23, 2008


By Courtney Westlake


Exercising without stretching forces your body's muscles to work without being properly prepared.

"Stretching is important because it helps prevent injury of the muscle and helps to rehabilitate the muscles, so if you're already injured, it's nice to stretch the muscles to help the fluids in your muscles start activating," said Amanda Jillson, assistant director of fitness and instructional programs at the TRAC.

Stretching the major muscle groups of the body is essential, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back, and shoulder and arms muscles. There are several simple exercises to stretch your major muscle groups. (To watch the stretches being demonstrated, check out the video.)

Your quadriceps are located at the front of the thighs between knees and hips. To stretch them, pull your heel back to your glute. Make sure to keep your knee pointed downward and close to your other leg, not pulling it outward, Jillson said. Hold for about 10 seconds and then switch legs.

Another good stretch for your legs involves pivoting and sinking back into your heel. Keep one leg bent and one leg straight, like you are able to drag your heel across the floor. You should feel the pull in your hamstring, located on the back of your upper leg. For a different stretch, pull your toe back towards you, which will stretch both your calf muscle and your hamstring.

To stretch your arms, put one arm straight out and bring it across your body; put your opposite hand right on your elbow and pull your arm into your chest. When you are doing this, you will feel the pull in your triceps, shoulders and the back of the arm.

To stretch your back, interlock your hands in front of you and push your arms out. This move pulls your trapezes in your back. To stretch your chest, do the same motion behind your back by interlocking your hands and pulling your shoulders back with your arms up.

When someone should stretch has become controversial topic, Jillson said, but she recommends stretching both before and after exercising.

"But you always want to stretch when you're warm," she emphasized. "You never want to stretch a cold muscle, so you always want to warm up with a light jog or jumping jacks - something for a brief couple of minutes. And after you perform your exercises, you always want to cool down with some mild stretches."