For all the multi-million-dollar marketing campaigns behind contemporary workouts routines, instructor-led classes, or pristine health club facilities, staying active is and remains a simple concept that requires no expenditures.

None of the aforementioned marketplace developments are bad; in fact, many can be wonderful ways of assisting or otherwise enhancing personal goals. However, ordinary human endeavors require physical exertion, such as manual labor, outdoor exploration, and athletic competition.

As these  regain popularity, more and more people continue to appreciate the traditional methods. One of the simplest of these, at the core of the yoga explosion in first world countries, is stretching. In addition to aiding in post-exercise recovery and helping prevent excessive muscle strain, stretching is actually a great workout in and of itself.

Indeed, the often-overlooked element of flexibility can help workout warriors reap better results than they may initially expect, according to a recent article from The Aiken Standard. Columnist and story author Dr. Brian B. Parr explained the benefits of stretching and provided helpful tips, writing:

Stretching is an important and often overlooked part of an exercise program. Stretching exercises improve your flexibility and range of motion. This can help reduce back pain and muscle stiffness, improve your posture, and may reduce your risk of injury when you are active.

Here are some key points to keep in mind as you add stretching to your exercise routine:

  • Target major muscle groups. When you’re stretching, focus on your calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck and shoulders. Also stretch muscles and joints that you routinely use at work or play.
  • Warm up first. The idea that stretching is a good warm-up before exercise is outdated. Stretching muscles when they’re cold increases your risk of injury, including pulled muscles. Warm up first by exercising at low intensity for 5 minutes or, better yet, stretch after you work out.
  • Hold each stretch for at least 20 seconds. It takes time for the muscles to stretch and lengthen, so a longer stretch is better. That can seem like a long time, so keep an eye on the clock or your watch. Then repeat the stretch on the other side. For most muscle groups, a single stretch is often sufficient if you hold it long enough.
  • Don’t bounce. While it might seem that bouncing would give you a better stretch, the opposite can be true. In extreme cases you could even damage the muscle making you less flexible and more prone to pain. 
  • Focus on a pain-free stretch. You should expect to feel the stretch, but it shouldn’t cause pain. If it hurts, you’ve gone too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch.
  • Relax and breathe freely. Don’t hold your breath while you’re stretching. This is especially important if you are doing a workout that emphasizes stretching, like yoga.

In years past, flexibility was often viewed as important only for serious athletes seeking to avoid injury. While that remains an important function, disciplined stretching is no longer viewed as a high-level exercise habit. Nowadays, Average Janes and Joes across the world understand how five minutes of toe touching or a 30-minute yoga class can transform their whole routine.

To read Barr’s full writeup, click here.