Warming up and cooling down are very important aspects of exercise. Passive stretching has not been shown to reduce injuries. In fact, there is some evidence passive stretching can increase your chances of injury. Examples of passive stretching are leaning forward at your waist to try and touch your toes, whether standing or sitting with your legs out straight in front of you. This type of stretching should always be avoided. Active stretching, however, is excellent before and after your exercise routines to help loosen and clear your muscles. It is the safest and most effective way to stretch.
To do any active stretch, contract or tighten the muscle(s) opposite the muscle(s) you want to relax or stretch. For example, if you want to stretch the muscles on the front of your upper arm (biceps), you tighten the muscles on the back of your arm (triceps). This is easily done by straightening your elbow as hard as you can without cramping. Conversely, if you want to stretch the muscles on the back of your upper arm, tighten the muscles on the front of your arm. In other words, bend your elbow as hard as you can without cramping.
This same principle applies to any muscles anywhere in your body. For example if you wish to stretch the muscles on the back of your legs (hamstrings, gastrocnemius, etc.), sit with your legs straight in front of you. Tighten your abdominal and gluteal (buttocks) muscles so your upper pelvis tips back. Hold this pelvic tuck without holding your breath. Next, tighten the muscles on the front of your upper legs (quadriceps) by pushing your legs down to the floor as hard as you can without cramping. Then, bend your ankles and pull your toes toward your head (tibialis anterior, etc.). Take a deep breath and let it out while reaching toward your toes with both hands. You will definitely feel a strong stretch along the entire length of the backs of your legs. Use this principle of active stretching to relax and loosen muscles anywhere in your body before or after exercising.
The following is an excellent list of some of the very best books and DVDs with the safest, most effective stretching exercises:
Super Joints - Pavel Book
Super Joints - Pavel DVD
Super Joints - Pavel Book & DVD Set
Relax into Stretch - Pavel Book
Relax into Stretch - Pavel DVD
Forced Relaxation - Pavel DVD
Pavel's Stretch DVD Set 2 DVD Set
Pavel's Stretch Book/DVD Set Book & 2 DVD Set
Loaded Stretching - Pavel DVD
Strength Stretching - Pavel DVD
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