Stretching for exercise and health: Basic safety rules.

Avoid injuries while stretching.

Stretching and flexibility from Running Dialogue

According to Jeff Galloway's book on running, stretching is the third greatest cause of injuries to runners. It is important to stretch safely, regularly, and timely.

Oddly enough, stretching is an excellent preventor of running injuries.
Regular and slow stretching improves running performance by increasing
your range of motion and coordination.
Stretching increases:
releases stiff joints
reduces muscular tension, 
improves circulation
enhances muscle tone. 
Long relaxed muscles allow to you run faster for the same energy
expenditure. You'll run faster for the same amount of oxygen use.
Energy will not be wasted to propel your formerly stiff muscles slowly. 
Instead, the energy will propel your fluid muscles forward at faster speed.

No pain, no gain was redundant the day it was first used.

Edward R. Laskowski M.D co-director of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center

In Rochester, Minnesota, Says, "no pain, no pain" may be a better philosophy.

Never hold a painful stretch. You should back off just to where it's not 
painful, and hold for the duration of the stretch." 
Stretching lengthens muscle tissue, making it less liable to trauma and 
tears. Stretching should be a relaxing part of your exercise session. 

Stretching rules (adapted from the stretching rules in Running Dialogue by David Holt)

Maintaining sufficient flexibility for your running and other activities. 
Be sport-specific  
Concentrate on the range of motions and the muscle groups which you use
in running. 
Start slowly and gently. 
Hold your stretch  It takes time to lengthen tissue safely. Hold your
stretches at least 30 seconds  and up to a minute with a particularly
tight muscle or problem area. 
Stretch 'warm' muscles  

Running research does not show any additional benefits from stretching after running, than the benefits of stretching before running. But do stretch. Stretch warm muscles after walking and loosening up.

Stretching a cold muscle can strain the muscle fibers. Warm up first.
I think it's more beneficial to stretch after you exercise, when the muscle
is heated by blood flow and is more amenable to your request. 

No causes muscle fiber tears.

Bouncing causes microtrauma in the muscle, which must
heal itself with scar tissue. The scar tissue tightens the muscle, making
you less flexible  and more prone to pain. Bouncing sets up a vicious

Keep each side of your body in balance.

Balance your shocks. Equalize your body. A tight hamstring can cause a
knee injury that side. 
Ask sports medicine specialists, athletic trainers,
physical therapists, or orthodedists and podiatrists for stretching advice. 

New Research.

According to the Mayo newsletter.

Mayo sports medicine doctors are researching whether total relaxation of a
muscle may be an important part of achieving flexibility, perhaps apart from or in
combination with stretching. Anecdotally, they've observed a high degree of
flexibility in "tight" people while they are under general anesthesia  even
though their muscles are structurally the same as when they are awake.
Although it's too early to draw conclusions, the theory behind this new research
is that stimulation from the central nervous system influences the flexibility of
muscles, and that relaxing a muscle may be a viable method of enhancing

What this means for runners is what you've always known: If you are relaxed, if you take your time, you'll get a better and healthier stretch.

Stretching and flexibility from Running Dialogue
David's Bigstep web site
Running injury prevention
More health and fitness topics from author and Registered Nurse David Holt
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Stretching for exercise and health: Basic safety rules