Working out is great for your health and your physique. However, it does come with some risks. Every time you push through a workout you put your body at risk for injury. A fitness injury can be painful, inconvenient, and ruin your exercise regimen. Thankfully, though, there are ways to keep your body in top condition at every workout. In addition to practicing proper form and using equipment safely, you can significantly cut your risk of injury by regularly stretching your muscles.

When you stretch your body, you improve muscle flexibility. This helps you move your muscles over a greater range of motion. Consequently, your muscles are less likely to tear as you move through resistance moves or participate in cardiovascular activities. Additionally, stretching relaxes your muscles, making them less tight and preventing post-workout stiffness. Tight muscles waste energy and can fatigue more quickly than those that are relaxed. Plus, relaxed muscles are less susceptible to stress and can heal faster after a tough workout.

Believe it or not, stretching is not as simple as it may seem. So, before you institute a stretching regimen, be sure you understand the different kinds of stretches. All stretches can be divided into two basic types: static and dynamic. Static stretching is the most common, and safest, way to improve flexibility. During static stretching, you move your joint through its greatest range of motion and hold the final position for 20 to 30 seconds. While this will produce a pulling sensation, it should not cause considerable pain or discomfort. For maximum flexibility gains, you should try to perform at least static stretches per muscle group. In some static stretching routines, you may work with a partner to slowly push beyond your normal range of motion. This blends static with the next form of stretching, dynamic.

In dynamic stretching, you gradually push further into the stretch over the course of eight to twelve repetitions. This type of stretching needs to be controlled and use no quick, jerking movements. If care is not taken, dynamic stretching can certainly lead to injry. Whereas static stretching is usually done at the end of a workout, dynamic stretching is more suited for the beginning as it can warm up your muscles.

Stretching should never be done immediately after resting for a long period. Rather, you want your muscles to be warmed up before you begin. This increases blood flow to the muscles, which makes them more flexible and less likely to experience strain. Some people also believe this improved circulation can aid your overall health by increasing the transportation of nutrients to cells. If you are a P90X fan, this is the same reason Tony Horton has you do a quick warm-up before the stretch.

When you add stretching to your exercise regimen, you truly do wonders for your body. Not only do you decrease your risk of injury, you better prepare your muscles for each subsequent workout. So, pick a few simple stretches and start improving your flexibility today, and enjoy the rewards of what stretching can do for your workouts. Some suggestions:

Tony Horton has a stretching routine, called X-Stretch in the P90X workout which is excellent! It’s very thorough, well laid out, and is a complete stretch from head to toe, my favorite.

Also from Tony Horton is Yoga Flex in 10 Minute Trainer (Approx. 10 minutes), Great Stretch Guaranteed, (10 minutes), and Power Half Hour also has a good routine, called Power Stretch (approx. 30 minutes).

Debbie Siebers has a couple in her programs. Slim & Limber for Slim in 6 (14 minutes), Cool it Off in the Slim Series (approx. 30 minutes), and Cool it Off Express for Slim Series Express (40 minutes).

I’m sure there are other programs for stretching out there, but I have found these to be great sources for my own personal fitness. On a final note, here is a short video from Tony Horton and his thoughts on stretching and the P90X X-Stretch.