How to Stretch Out Properly

I often get questions from patients about how they should warm up or prepare before starting to exercise.  I have a few suggestions that I’ve learned over the years from physical therapists, personal trainers and patients who have come in from sports related injuries.  A good stretching warm up raises the temperature of your muscles and promotes optimal flexibility with the goal of preventing muscle strain or spasms.

1)  Understand the muscles you will be using during your particular sport.  It’s important to know what your workout will involve and then stretch those muscles.  For example, if you are a runner then warming up the hamstrings, quads and gluts are more important than the muscles of the upper body.

2)  Begin slowly.  Learn to gradually lengthen the muscles to prevent injury during exercise.  You don’t need to touch your toes immediately.  If fact if you over-stretch your muscles too quickly, it can put them into a spasm.

3)  Hold the stretch.  Begin by holding your position once your muscles reach their limit for 10-15 seconds, then relax and perform that stretch again.  Repeat on the other side of the body or extremity as necessary.

4)  Once you’ve finished your workout, stretch again.  You will increase your flexibility and it’s a great way to cool down after your exercise routine.

5)  Don’t bounce.  If you bounce when you stretch, you may increase your risk of injury and over-stretch.   You should not feel like you’re hurting yourself with stretching.  If it hurts, stop the stretch immediately.

Every medical professional has their favorite stretches.  Some of my favorites include the following:

A)  Quadricep Stretches:  The quadriceps are four muscles located in the anterior thigh (the Vastus lateralis, Vatus medialis, Vastus intermedius and Rectus femoris.)  This muscle group acts to extend the leg while straightening the knee.  Running, biking, jumping, hopping, and jogging all involve the quads and dysfunction in these muscles may lead to injury.  The way I stretch this muscle group is by:

1)  While standing, grab  a stable structure such as the table or counter for balance with one hand.

2)  Bend your knee back by grasping your ankle with the hand on the same side of your body

3)  Maintain the position for 15-30 seconds and if no stretch is felt, you may bend forward at the hips, then relax to a standing position.

4)  Repeat the procedure for the other leg and continue repeating for 15 minutes.

B)  Hamstring stretch:  Your hamstring  is the muscle group that runs along the back of your upper leg.  Three muscles that make up the hamstrings are the biceps femoris, semimembranosus and semitendonosus.  They are mostly used as a hip extensor and

1)  Place your heel on an object approximately 18″ high, and stand as erectly as possible.

2)  Extend your low back, tilting your pelvis forward, and bend forward from the hips, maintaining the curve of your low back pain.

3)  For added emphasis, tilt your toes back toward you.  You should feel the stretch in the back of your leg.  Hold for 15-30 seconds and then repeat for the other leg for a total of 15 minutes.

C)  Glute Stretch:  The glute muscles are defined as the buttocks.  They encompass the Gluteus Maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus.  They play a role in movement and are used in walking, running, jumping, bicycle riding, and more.  They extend and rotate the leg.

1)  Lie on the floor or mat.  Bend knees with feet on the floor.

2)  Cross lower leg over thigh and grasp back of thigh of the lower leg with both hands

3)  Pull leg toward torso and hold stretch for 15-30 seconds.  Repeat for the opposite leg and continue for a total of 15 minutes.

D)  Calf Stretch:   The calf muscles consist of the gastrocnemius and the soleus. The gastrocnemius is the big muscle at the back of the lower leg.  It helps us plantar flex (point the food down).  It also helps with knee extension.  The Soleus muscle’s action is ankle plantar flexion.

1)  Place the toes of one foot up onto the wall so that your heel is still on the ground

2)  Lean forward until a stretch is felt in your calf, keeping your knee straight.

3)  Hold for 15-30 seconds and then repeat with the other foot.  Continue for a total of 15 minutes.

This document is for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual patient.  If you have questions please contact your medical provider.


I hope that you have found this information useful.  Wishing you the best of health,

Scott Rennie, DO



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