Stretching is an absolute must before and after exercising, but don't use the same stretches in your warm-up and cool-down. Try dynamic stretches before working out to put your muscles through a full range of motion and give your core temperature a kick start. During your cool-down, use static stretches to improve your flexibility while relaxing your muscles. If you've just finished any kind of upper-body workout, wrap up the exercise with static stretches for your shoulders and chest before you hit the shower.
Static Shoulder Stretch
Stand with your back straight and your feet slightly wider than shoulder distance. Bend your knees slightly to help you stand comfortably.
Lift your left arm and reach it across your chest so the arm is parallel with the floor. Use your right forearm to pull your left upper arm toward your chest to deepen the stretch. Deepen the stretch, as needed, until you feel a stretch in your left shoulder. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
Lower your arms and repeat the move on the opposite side to stretch your right shoulder.
Static Chest Stretch
Adopt a stance with your feet wider than shoulder width, your knees bent just enough to unlock them and your back straight.
Raise your arms and hold them directly out to your sides at the height of your shoulders. Position your arms parallel to the floor with your palms facing forward.
Reach your arms backward as far as you can; you'll only be able to move them back slightly, but visualize trying to touch your hands together behind your upper back. Upon feeling a stretch in your chest, hold the pose for 30 seconds and then release it.
- "Fitness" magazine recommends holding stretches 30 seconds. The magazine reports that when you hold a stretch for less than 20 seconds you won't lengthen the muscles enough to make a difference. If you hold the stretch for significantly more than 30 seconds, you risk straining a muscle.
- Avoid stretching to the point of pain. If you experience pain during a stretch, lessen the stretch until it's comfortable.
Toronto-based journalist William McCoy has been writing since 1997, specializing in topics such as sports, nutrition and health. He serves as the Studio's sports and recreation section expert. McCoy is a journalism graduate of Ryerson University.