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Beginning a Stretching Program

Steve Ilg, a highly sought-after professional trainer and author of The Winter Athlete (Johnson Books, 1999), has been a nationally sponsored multisport athlete who has excelled in technical rock and ice climbing as well as in Nordic skiing, cycling, and snowshoeing. He is also a yoga teacher and Joe Glickman's coach. Often when he's asked what the best way to stay flexible is, he replies, "Renounce your furniture. Learn the Asian squat and make use of it." While it might sound absurd or amusing, it makes sense. If you toss your chairs and tables, reduce the amount of desktop work you do, and eat your meals seated cross-legged on the floor, your lower back and hips will be far better off than the compressed lifestyle to which most of us are accustomed.

While getting rid of your furniture might be good for your overall flexibility, it's likely to make your family and friends think that you've either had a momentous religious experience or you're absconding with company funds and heading to Mexico. Assuming that you keep your dining room set and Lazy Boy lounger, you'll be well served to do the next best thing – embark on a regular stretching program.

"But I hate to stretch," you say. Sure, stretching can be tedious. Plus it hurts – at least when you first do it. And wine tastes like cough medicine the first dozen times you try it. However, the more you do it, the more limber your body becomes. Eventually, you'll get so accustomed and even fond of that self-lubricated sensation that you'll crave it like a Frenchmen does a fine Bordeaux.

If you're like the three of us – highly motivated fitness addicts leading busy lives – here's the way you probably think: Time is precious, gotta get in and out of the gym as soon as possible. However, let us assure you (and we're speaking from experience here), if you don't stretch and continue to work out, your body will rebel. Again, to quote Mr. Ilg, "More than a fitness quality that allows you to gain something, kinesthetic training enables you to release something that is already within." To borrow terminology from the martial arts: Lifting weights is hard training; stretching is soft. Do both, and you're armed and dangerous.

It might sound dramatic, but almost more than anything else we tell you in this book, warming up and stretching are crucial if you're to stay healthy and achieve your fitness goals. Joe, who spends a lot of time crunching his 6-foot, 4-inch frame into a narrow, tippy kayak, suffered from a number of chronic, nagging injuries – the most pernicious being sciatica (a painful condition caused by compressing the sciatic nerve, which is located right behind the back pocket of your pants) in his left leg. Two weeks into his daily stretching routine, the pain virtually disappeared even though he continued paddling. Ditto for the achy feeling he experienced each morning in his lower back.

This chapter will guide you through the basics of warming up and stretching – the two most neglected aspects of the fitness game.

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Excerpted from he Complete Idiot's Guide to Weight Training © 2003 by Deidre Johnson-Cane and Jonathan Cane. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide website or call 1-800-253-6476.

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