Stretching is important not only for flexibility, but for performance and recovery from competitive events.

Stretching and Flexibility, Keys to Recovery and Performance

While aerobic activities like walking, running, cycling and going to the gym are the foundations of staying fit, it’s important to pay just as much attention to flexibility training.

And when you’re recovering from a running event like the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon, 10K and 5K, stretching is even more important.  According to the American Council on Exercise, the benefits of increased flexibility include greater freedom of movement, improved agility, and release of muscle tension, all of which improve athletic performance.

Limbering up provides additional benefits in reducing your risk of injury and improving posture, which in turn is key to preventing back and hip pain. Lastly, stretching helps relax not only muscles, but your whole body. Spend five to ten minutes in the morning or evening doing a few basic stretches, and you’ll see the benefits almost immediately. Here are the basic components of a simple stretching routine.

Loosen the Long Muscles

Try extending body parts that may be hunched up from prolonged sitting, such as hamstrings and upper back.  Try this stretching routine, which is aimed at elongating the long muscles. Breathe as you stretch, and try to hold each position rather than bounce. If you feel pain, ease up and relax – stretching may give you a twinge, but it shouldn’t hurt.

Relax the Back

The neck, shoulders, and upper back are areas where most of us carry a lot of tension, particularly if we spend a lot of time on the computer. To address this, pause every few hours and do these simple neck stretches to loosen the trapezius and scapula muscles.

Stretch Side to Side

Moving side-to-side engages stabilizing muscles, leading to better control and protection for when you’re moving straight ahead. Lunges are another way to develop strength and stability, helping maintain balance as we age.

Rotate to Relax

Slowly rotating your hips and shoulders can increase your mobility and core control. Stay in a range of motion that’s comfortable. If one side feels tighter than the other, go slower and do a few more repetitions on that side.

Loosen Up

Massaging a muscle that is chronically tight may increase blood flow to the muscle and help reduce tension. Gently knead the area with your hands, or use a foam roller.

If you have the time, taking a few minutes to do a dynamic warm up may enhance your fitness and sports performance.

If you prefer to work on flexibility in a class setting, consider yoga, Pilates, and tai chi. Having an instructor to model technique can help ensure you’re doing moves properly and hold you accountable.

Ready, Stretch, Go

Before you exercise, warm up with at least 5-10 minutes of walking to help naturally loosen the muscles first. Whether it’s cold or hot out, your body still needs a warm-up to prepare for aerobic activity, reduce injury risk, and perform well. Focus on large muscles groups (hamstrings, quadriceps, shoulders, calves, and back), and don’t forget to stretch both sides evenly.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.