Muscle injuries are more common now than they were 50 years ago. That's not because we're exercising harder. It's because we're more sedentary.
As a result, stretching is more important than ever, says Erin McGill, a certified personal trainer and training and development manager for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. A lot of people think, 'Oh, I should stretch because I don't want to pull muscles or be injured,' she says. But stretching is also one of the best ways to undo the damage caused by inactivity.
Stretching has benefits similar to massage's. It gets the blood flowing to overactive muscles that have contracted because of stress or immobility. Without a good stretch, these muscles can spasm and shut down-and then show up as the marblelike knots that get extra attention from your massage therapist.
In fact, regular massage improves your flexibility and range of motion, keeping your joints more fluid and making them less injury prone. McGill recommends 10 to 15 minutes of stretching before each workout to rebalance your body. And if you don't exercise, stretch anyway. "It's hard on your body to sit at a desk all day," McGill says, "so stretch anytime you can."
Here are three stretches you can do anytime:
- Hip flexors. Lower yourself onto one knee, as if you're going to propose. Lean slightly forward onto the front leg as you tighten your stomach and buttock muscles and tuck your hips under. You should feel the stretch along the top of the thigh in back. Switch legs and repeat.
- Chest muscles (pectorals). Stand in a doorway with one arm up, your elbow at shoulder height and your hand at head height. Rest your forearm on the door frame and rotate away from the door. You'll feel a stretch across your chest and shoulder. Switch arms.
- Back (latissimus dorsi). Kneel in front of a chair. Extend your arms to the sides of the chair and pull back gently without moving your arms. You'll feel the stretch across your back.
-By June D. Bell