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Beginning a Stretching Program

Hey Stretch!

When you've finished warming up, head to the stretching area. Typically, this is a small, quiet room littered with mats. You'll know you're in the right place when you hear the loud "whoosh" of people exhaling.

Again, we can't overstress the importance of stretching to the quality of your workout as well as the quality of your life. Here's where you'll stretch each major muscle group. If the mere thought fills you with dread, it's all the more reason to suck it up and face your tight hamstrings.

While kids are naturally as loose as Gumby, age and our sedentary lifestyles shorten our muscles. Think about it: You sit for hours each day, and lie virtually motionless in bed for eight or so hours at a time. Riding a bike, running, and clicking the keyboard of a computer shortens your muscles over the course of a lifetime. Without stretching, the natural length of a muscle is changed, which can lead to weakness and muscle imbalances, which can in turn lead to structural changes as you get older. Just thinking about it conjures up images of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

As we said earlier, the way to counteract this process is to stretch. Simply put, stretching maintains the flexibility that's compromised as we age. Flexibility is important in both everyday activities like turning your head before you make a left-hand turn onto the highway or bending over and picking up your two-year-old child, as well as in athletic endeavors like fielding a ground ball or shushing down the ski slopes without pulling a muscle.

In her work as a physical therapist, Deidre sees countless injuries that were directly related to decreased flexibility. Not surprisingly, virtually every one of these people complained about lower back pain. Care to guess how flexible they were? If you said "not very," you win a tube of Ben Gay. Once they were given a comprehensive stretching routine, their symptoms usually disappeared.

Now while Deidre told her patients to stretch like there was no tomorrow, she lifted weights each day and diligently skipped stretching herself. The result? During her powerlifting career she suffered from chronic lower back pain. When she was evaluated, she was told that the flexibility of her lower back musculature was that of a 75-year-old driving instructor. When she began to stretch on a regular basis, this nagging injury receded into the background.

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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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