The Flex Test
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The Flex Test

The Flex Test

by Beth Hagman

As you go through the following positions, stretch until mildly uncomfortable, but don't push or bounce and back off at the first sign of pain. Warm up with a few minutes of walking or knee lifts first.

  1. Shoulder
    Standing, reach your left hand behind your back and up to the opposite shoulder blade. Repeat with your right hand. You should be able to touch the bottom of your shoulder blade.
  2. Lower Back
    Lying on your back, pull both knees toward your chest. You should be able to touch your chest without arching your back.
  3. Hamstring
    Still lying on your back, lift your left leg straight up, keeping your right leg flat on the floor and both knees unbent. Switch legs and repeat. Both legs should be able to reach a 90 degree vertical.
  4. Front of Thigh
    Turn over and lie on your stomach, knees together. With your left hand, gently pull your left heel toward your buttocks. Repeat with the right side. Both heels should comfortably touch your buttocks.

If you can't reach these flex points, start a daily stretching program until you can. And then continue it. Why? Because stretching improves your coordination and body awareness. It increases your range of motion, improves circulation and helps prevent injuries. On top of all that, regular stretching feels good!

How to Stretch
The key to successfulstretching is to warm up FIRST. Don't ever stretch cold muscles. Stretch at the end of your regular warm-up and after you exercise.

Static stretches are slow, a gradual movement through your muscle's full range of motion, slowly lengthening it until you feel resistance. At this point, you hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds and then slowly return to the resting position. Repeat two or three times for every major muscle group.

A more complete - and much more fun - method of stretching involves two people working together. To do it right, however, you need hands-on instruction; doing it wrong can lead to injury. If you're interested, ask a trainer at your local gym to show you and your partner this method of stretching.

Whichever method of stretching you're using, start out with several minutes of aerobic warm-up. Then add upper-body warm-up work, including shoulder shrugs and shoulder rolls. Finally, move into your stretches.

Standing stretches are good before aerobic or strength training. Keep your knees slightly bent. Floor stretches are best for general flexibility and cool down. Stretch both right and left sides of the body equally.

Don't Bounce!
When you stretch a muscle, the opposite muscle relaxes. In a fast or jerky movement, the opposite muscle doesn't have time to relax and stretch - in fact, it may contract to avoid over-stretching. In this way, the elastic limits of the muscle are easily exceeded, and injury may result.

There are several good books on stretching, and many fitness and running books with sections on stretching. I recommend that you work directly with a trainer to learn your limits and develop a stretching routine - because doing it right is going to improve your running, and doing it wrong is going to leave you with a whole new set of injuries.

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