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Can we talk about stretching for a sec?

Muscular performance — strength and endurance — is only half the story when it comes to your muscular fitness. The other half is flexibility. Flexibility is the ability of a part of your body to move freely over a wide range of motion without stiffness or resistance. Flexible muscles are less prone to soreness and injury and can help improve overall muscular performance since they’re longer and less likely to “tear” or strain than tight, inflexible ones.

Have you heard of static stretching?

Static stretches are those held for longer periods. They can safely elongate your muscles as well as the tendons that attach them to the bone, thereby improving joint mobility. 

Gentle static stretching exercises are perhaps the best means of keeping your muscles and joints flexible. Stretching for five to ten minutes before vigorous activity can help reduce your risk of injury. And stretching for an equal amount of time after rigorous activity can prevent muscle soreness. 

A consistent stretching program will improve your overall level of flexibility. The best way to stretch a muscle is to do it slowly and gently. When you reach your maximum pain-free stretch, don’t bounce. Just hold the stretch until your muscle relaxes, usually 20 to 40 seconds. 

All about joint mobility

Joint mobility is improved by flexible muscles, but there are also specific exercises that can work your joints through their entire range of motion without necessarily stretching surrounding muscles. These exercises or movements generally use a back-and-forth or circular motion to improve joint mobility. They should always be done slowly with controlled motion to avoid pushing a joint past its limits. Jerking or bouncing can actually cause injury to joints.

Tests for measuring flexibility

How do you know if you need to improve your flexibility? Here are two simple tests. The sitting toe touch checks the flexibility of the low back and the backs of your legs. The arm and shoulder stretch measures the flexibility of your shoulders and upper back. 

Lack of flexibility in these muscle groups usually indicates you need improvement. When doing these “tests,” don’t jerk, bounce or force yourself to move further than is comfortable. To be safe, use slow, gentle movements when trying these tests.

  • Sitting toe touch: While sitting on the floor with a straight back and your legs stretched out in front of you, place a ruler between your feet. Now, position is so the start of the  ruler is between your feet and the 5” mark is against your heels, ... Try to reach past your toes. Don’t hold your breath; breathe normally. Have a friend measure the distance. (0”–5”=Poor; 5”–10”=Good; Over 10”=Very Good)
  • Arm and shoulder stretch: Lie face down on the floor, holding a ruler above your head, with your hands shoulder-width apart, palms down. Keeping your chin on the floor, breathe normally and slowly lift the ruler off the floor and have a friend measure the distance from the floor. (0”–5”=Poor; 5”–10”=Good; Over 10”=Very Good)

Need help with creating and sticking with healthy exercise habits? The Attain by AetnaSM app gives you tips, tools and points for making healthier and more mindful choices, like stretching to keep your muscles in shape. Download the AttainSM app today in the App Store. Already using the app? Head over to the “Actions” tab in the app and start building healthy habits today.

This material provides a general overview of the topic. Health information is not a substitute for diagnosis or treatment by a therapist, physician or other health care professional. Contact a health care professional with any questions or concerns about specific health care needs.