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Stretching when your muscles are cold is a recipe for pain and injury, so kick off your stretch routine with a five- to 10-minute warm-up. Spend a few of those minutes doing light aerobic exercise, such as high-knee marching, jogging lightly, power skipping or jumping rope. Or warm up with some basic gymnastics skills, such as low leaps or chasses -- a movement that resembles galloping -- to the front or side. The point of the warm up is to increase circulation to your limbs, loosen up your joints and raise muscle-tissue temperature. At this stage, keep your movements relatively small, but involve your arms to increase blood flow to your upper limbs.
When your heart is pumping and you start sweating, transition into dynamic stretching, which involves continuous repetitive movement. Use a variety of dynamic stretches to target most areas of your upper and lower body, including butt kicks or traveling lunges for your thighs, sweeping arm circles for your shoulders, toe walking and heel walking for your shins and calves and trunk twists for your back and obliques. Circle your hands clockwise and counterclockwise to relax and loosen your wrists; fan your fingers and then close them into fists to stimulate the tiny muscles in your hands; and "draw" the letters of the alphabet in the air with each foot to loosen your feet and ankles. Throughout the dynamic portion of your stretch routine, keep your movements smooth, slow and perfectly controlled.
Now that your muscles
are warm, do some static stretches to promote flexibility. Cover the major muscle groups, including quads, hamstrings, glutes, groin, calves, neck and shoulders, arms, back and hip flexors. As a beginner, stick with basic stretches that won't overstress your joints. Start standing in a wide stance and gently tilt your head to one side and then the other. Do a lateral trunk stretch to the right with your left arm overhead; repeat on the other side. Do a forward bend, maintaining a straight spine and keeping your hands on your thighs for support. On the floor, do a butterfly stretch and then a pike stretch with your legs together and extended in front of you. Move into a seated straddle position; keeping your back straight, slowly walk your fingertips forward along the floor. Move into a pushup position and do a seal stretch, slowly raising your shoulders and chest off floor. Move into stretch positions gradually and hold for up to 30 seconds, repeating up to four times.
As a beginner, safety is a primary concern. Never push past the point of mild to moderate tension. If you feel pain or pinching, stop. Avoid bouncing, which can trigger the stretch reflex, causing the muscle to contract and shorten. Always use proper form to avoid putting excess stress on the muscles and joints. Stay away from extreme stretches -- such as the classic hurdler's stretch or bending the head to the back -- which can result in serious injury. Avoid hyperextending the knees; keep the knees "soft," or slightly relaxed.