Stretching is key to effective exercise program Published Oct. 20, 2010 By Airman 1st Class Kursie Shaffer 81st Surgical Operations Squadron KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- With winter just around the corner, it's a great time to emphasize the importance of stretching when exercising. Why is it necessary to stretch? It's done to improve flexibility. Flexibility improves muscle balance and posture. It also increases blood and nutrient supply to muscles and it reduces the chance of injury when performing high-impact activities. Tense, tight muscles result in decreased sensory awareness, increased blood pressure, decreased blood circulation and decreased coordination which could result in injury. Stretching shouldn't be confused with a warm-up -- stretching shouldn't be done as a warm-up prior to an activity because this could injure the muscles. Never stretch cold muscles. Stretching after a short warm-up before a workout helps loosen the muscles. When stretching, hold the position for 30-60 seconds and don't bounce when holding the stretch. Bouncing places excess strain on muscles and could possibly tear them. Increased flexibility allows more oxygen to reach the body's muscles. The heart pumps more blood, making muscles more effective. It's also important to stretch after physical activity. The goal of stretching is to develop and maintain range of motion around joints. When muscles perform any exercise, they tighten and shorten. Stretching muscles helps improve their length which maintains and may improve range of motion. And stretching just feels good, often relaxing tense muscles that come with everyday stress. Incorporate stretching before and after normal routines. It only takes a few extra minutes to ensure maximum results from workouts.