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Stretch the workout

Your muscles move your body, so to keep yourself in top shape, make stretching a part of your fitness routine.

Stretching requires little time, no special equipment, you can do it anywhere, and the payoffs are huge. According to the American Council on Exercise, stretching improves the range of motion in joints and may slow the joint degeneration that comes with age.

It can also help prevent injury, reduce post exercise soreness, help relieve tension and improve posture.

So how and when should you stretch? "It used to be that we would stretch first, but now we say let’s move a bit first," says Monica Zobitz, a certified group fitness instructor and certified strength and conditioning instructor at the Rochester Area Family YMCA.

Zobitz recommends at least five minutes of movement such as walking before stretching.

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"Research shows that muscles flex better when they’re warm," she says.

Once you’re warm, Zobitz says, start stretching, making sure to stretch all muscle groups, including both the front and back of your body and limbs. Hold each stretch for about 20 seconds, then release. Repeat the stretch four times.

When stretching limbs, Zobitz recommends alternating sides with each repetition so muscles get a rest between stretches. Stretching your entire body can be done in 15 to 20 minutes.

Common mistakes when stretching include stretching without warming up first, doing a cardio or strength workout and not stretching afterward and stretching too hard.

"You should stretch to the limit of movement, but not to the point to pain," Zobitz says.

If you’re looking for stretches to add to your routine, there are many resources. A personal trainer can show you how to stretch, or you can pick up stretches in a fitness class. "Every class we’ve got on the schedule (at the Y) includes some stretching," says Zobitz. There’s also a host of books and websites on the topic.

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