Introduction: How to Stretch

Have you ever pulled a muscle? How about four?  If you have, then you will agree with me that streching is a very important step of working out.I have gathered my top stretches which I think everyone should do before hitting the gym. (or exercising in general)

EDIT: Thanks to bridge47 for corrections and other insights!

Step 1: Getting Started

DISCLAIMER: I am not responsable for any personnal injury gained by these stretches. Know what you are doing, and don't over pull you muscles. If you aren't sure that you are healthy enough for these activites, receive a physical check from a doctor prior to performing the stretches.

As I mention in every step, try to hold the stretches for at least ten seconds. The longer you hold the stretches, the more added flexibility you will recieve. However, instead of holding it for 60 seconds straight, it is better if you relax for five seconds after every ten (e.g. 10 seconds stretch, five seconds rest. 10 seconds stretch, five seconds rest....).

You will need:
- semi-loose clothes
-a body to perform the stretches on*

*You can perform these on a dead body, but added flexibility is not guarenteed.

Step 2: Basic Toe Touch

         I bet every one here has heard of this one. It stretches your Gastrocnemius, a.k.a your upper calf muscle. Injury of this muscle is very common in sports that include running and jumping (ex. tennis, cross-country, track, hurdling, soccer).

         To start, sit with your knees straight and your legs out. Slowly reach for your toes, keeping your hands even with each other. Reach untill you feel the stretch in the back of your legs. Hold for ten seconds, then repeat if wanted.

Step 3: Quad Stretch

This is also a fairly common stretch.

Your quadricep muscle group is composed of three individual muscles. They are the Rectus Femoris, Vastus Medialis, and Vastus laterlis, as you can se in the photo. I wont go into detail about the muscles, but all three control the movement of the knee, while the Rectus femoris also helps flex the hip. This mainly stretches your Retus femoris.

There many ways to do this stretch. I will cover the two that are most popular,but all of them do the same thing.

 To perform the sitting stretch, start in the sitting position with your legs straight. With your hand, grab one ankle and bring up to your butt.  Point your toes straight back, and put your ankle as close to your butt as possible.  If you dont feel the stretch, lean back until you can feel it.

To perform the standing stretch, stand up right with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Grab your ankle with your hand. Bring it up to yor butt and point your knee straight down. If you cant balance on one leg, find something to hold on to or do the sitting stretch.

Step 4: Inner Thigh

This next stretch will help our inner leg muscles.  The specific muscle is the Gracilis , which is an adductor muscle.

To begin, stand with your feet about double your shoulder width apart.  Keep both feet pointing straight foward. Slowly bend one knee and you should feel the stretch in your opposite inner thigh. Hold for ten seconds, then repeat for the other leg.

Step 5: Outer Thigh Stretch

This stretch elongates your outer leg muscle, the tensor fascia lata  and it's reinforcement, the iliotibial band. This muscle doesnt work as hard as your main thigh muscle, it mainly serves us as we walk and run.

To begin, stand normally and put your left foot over your right foot as shown in the picture. Reach for your toes, then after ten seconds put your right foot over your left and reach.

Step 6: Leaning Calf Stretch

After I played an hour of soccer and then running my (timed) mile in under 6:00, my lower calves (Soleus)  hurt crazily. If I hadn't of known this stretch, I might still be limping today.

This stretches your lower Gastrocnemius and your Soleus . Your Soleus provides the main propulsion in walking and running (no wonder it hurt so bad!).

To start, find an object where you can put your hands on at about chest height (Walls and poles work well for this). Place your feet as shown in the picture and keep your back leg straight for the first part of the stretch. After ten seconds, slightly bend your knee so that you feel the stretch move to your lower leg, right above your ankle. Repeat for other leg.

Step 7: Glute Stretch

This will stretch your Gluteus maximus a.k.a your butt muscles. This is another muscle that I've pulled so I include it when I do my stretches.

Start in a sitting position.  As you can see in the picture,bring one leg up and cross your ankle over the other leg. Use your arms as shown in the picture to bring the leg close to your chest. Feel the stretch below your hip on the outside of your leg. Hold for ten, then repeat for the other leg.

Step 8: Triceps Stretch

We are moving on to arm stretches now, and this is going to stretch our Triceps. Your triceps muscle extends your arm and forearm.

In the first shown stretch, lift one arm and reach down the center of your back. Use your other arm to grab the elbow and pull it to help bring your hand lower on your back, maximizing the stretch. Hold for ten, then repeat for your other arm. 

Step 9: Outer Shoulder Stretch

This will strech our outer shoulder, the posterior capsule. Thiss is what gives a propulsion force when throwing objects (baseballs, footballs, lamps, xboxes, waters, etc.).

In the second stretch, put one arm across the other as shown in the picture. Keep the stretched arm straight. To increase the stretch, pull backwards with the bent arm.

Step 10: Coping With a Pulled Muscle

Scenario: The almost inevitable has happened. You pulled a muscle. This is how you can help it heal as quickly  with as minimal effects as possible.

Also: If you heard a rip, pop, snap, and/or it hurts very (REALLY) badly, see a docter ASAP! You could risk permanent damage if it is really bad. That being said, don't freak out when your muscles start hurting. If there is no bruising and it only hurts while active, then it probably is just strained, not pulled.

An easy way to heat it is to put a cloth into a bowl of water and put that into the microwave for ~1 minute. Feel the water to make sure you dont burn your skin!

EDIT: Skip the first set of five. Do the latter instead.

Don't try these:
         1. Identify the muscle pulled; find out how to stretch it.
         2. Rest the muscle and only apply ice for the first 2-3 days.
         3. After 2-3 days, begin mild heat application and small stretches.
         4. After stretching and applying heat, apply ice and rest.
         5. Repeat steps 3 & 4 twice a day until the pulled muscle doesn't hurt with regular movement.

Do these instead:

1. Stop whatever workouts you do that stress the muscle.
2. Apply ice and heat sepratly for 15 minutes each, twice a day. Don't do one after the other; wait 20-30 mins in-between each application.
3. Stretch the muscle on a regular basis, but don't go hard on it. Ease into the stretch.
4. Try to use the muscle a little. Don't overuse it, only put it to very mild use.
5. Repeat steps 2-4 until the muscle doesnt hurt with regualr movement.

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