SUNDAY, Nov. 2, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Whatever sport you play this fall, it's essential to stretch before you start and after you finish.
Stretching improves and maintains your flexibility, and it helps prevent muscle and joint injuries. Stretching before you play a sport or begin exercising helps prepare your body. You also need to stretch after you finish any physical activity.
However, don't restrict your stretching to game day. You also need to do stretching routines two to three times a week to keep your joints, ligaments and muscles loose, says the University of Missouri Student Health Center.
The center offers some advice on proper stretching. First, you need to warm up before you even start stretching. To do that, you can run in place or walk briskly for five minutes. That helps warm your muscles.
Your stretches should be gradual and gentle, and you should work all the major muscle groups. Hold each stretch in a still position for 10 to 30 seconds, and stretch the muscle only to the point of resistance. If you start to feel pain while stretching, it means you're pushing too hard.
Don't bounce while you stretch. That causes your muscle fibers to shorten, instead of lengthen, and places undue stress on them.
Here are more stretching guidelines from the University of Washington:
- Relax while you stretch. If you breathe deeply and take your time, your stretches will be more enjoyable and beneficial. Pay attention to the muscles you're trying to stretch.
- When you stretch before playing sports or doing an activity such as running, make sure you focus your stretches on the muscles you'll be using during that activity.
To learn more about stretching and related exercise information, go to the University of Michigan.