The Only 5 Stretches You Need

12/03/2012 08:43 am ET

By Nora Tobin for Shape.com

As a fitness professional and athlete, one of the most common questions I hear is, "Do I really need to stretch?" or "What's the least amount of stretching I can do to still be worth it?" The short answer: Yes, stretching is important, and you should spend at least five minutes cooling down after every workout. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. You'll prevent injury and relieve pain. Stretching increases your range of motion, taking pressure off the joints and allowing the body to move more fluidly during exercise. As a result, you'll help prevent injury and/or pain that can be the product of an active lifestyle.
  2. You'll improve circulation. Stretching improves circulation by increasing blood flow to your muscles. Better circulation helps the body recover faster by removing waste byproducts in muscle tissue.
  3. You'll relieve stress. Stretching also helps calm the mind and reduce stress levels. When you're anxious, worried, or worn out, it places extra strain on the body, causing you to feel stressed. By taking a few minutes each day to unwind and relieve this unwanted tension, you will experience a sense of relief and stress will slowly start to fade away.

Do this five-minute cool-down at the end of your workout, when you wake up or before you go to bed. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, and repeat all five stretches two to three times.

The Only 5 Stretches You Need

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