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Stretch it Out

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Posted 1/15/2014

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Spaghetti and meatballs. Mickey and Minnie. Suit and tie. Some things are meant to go together -- just like stretching and exercise. "The good thing about stretching is that it improves the musculature and the joints," says Sarah Emanuel, Certified Wellness Program Coordinator at The Nebraska Medical Center. "That way, when you go into strengthening exercises, you have more opportunities to develop that strength without injury." If you're new to an exercise routine, Emanuel stresses the importance of stretching. She says, there's never a bad time to do it. "You can stretch anytime! Three, four even five times a day. There's no limit to giving yourself a good stretch. Even if you just roll your shoulders back and sit up taller." When should I stretch? Emanuel recommends stretching before activity to prevent an injury. But, if you're looking to enhance flexibility -- stretching won't make that much of a difference before a workout. "If you want to improve flexibility, stretch for a short period of time after your muscles are warm," says Emanuel. "You can stretch after a workout, after a walk or after a hot shower. Those are the best times to work on flexibility." How should I stretch? There are lots of options when it comes to stretching techniques, but if you're just beginning, Emanuel suggests stretching in a seated position. Start with a hamstring stretch. "Sit towards the front of a chair. Make sure the chair is stable," Emanuel advises. "Keep one leg bent with the foot flat on the floor. The other leg is going to extend straight out from you. You're going to pivot over the hipbone, and lean forward until you feel a stretch in the back of the leg." Once your hamstrings are limber, focus on the outer hip area. In a seated position, put one leg onto the knee of the other. If it's too intense, you can slide the leg down until the point when you can feel the stretch. Sit up nice and tall, and then slightly lean forward. "We need to keep our outer hip area limber because it's in a seated position for such a long period of time," says Emanuel. "If you need to change direction quickly, or go up and down the stairs, these muscles are the ones that do the work." How long should I hold a stretch? Emanuel recommends holding a stretch until the point of tension -- not pain. Get your muscle into a relaxed phase. "What you're trying to do is override the nervous system. We want to teach the nervous system that it is a safe distance -- that you can stretch to this point." For more information on stretching, call the Wellness Center at (402) 552-2775 or send an email to wcenter@nebraskamed.com