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Stretch before strain

Before you do any physically demanding activity, like lifting large loads or carrying heavy packages, it’s important to stretch your major muscle groups. Preparing your muscles and joints before you put them to work is the best way to prevent injury.

Why stretch?
Regular stretching has many benefits – it improves flexibility, strength, balance, circulation and range of motion. Strengthening your trunk muscles helps to keep the spine in proper alignment and protects the lower back from stress and injury. Increasing the flexibility in your back, buttocks and legs allows you to bend, twist and turn with comfort.

Stretching basics
Here are some fast and easy stretches you can do before tackling a strenuous task. These exercises are also good for easing the tension in tired muscles, so try them when you have a break at work – you’ll feel the relief right away.

Before you start stretching, warm up your muscles by walking briskly around the room for a few minutes, swinging your arms. Remember to keep your stretches gentle. Never bounce as you stretch or hold a painful stretch.

You should expect to feel some tension in your muscles as you stretch but if you feel pain, you've gone too far. Relax, breathe normally and try not to hold your breath. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

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Standing back extension
Stand, facing a wall, with your feet a few inches away from the wall.
Exhale and lean forward until your abdomen touches the wall (curve your back slightly to accomplish this move).
Hold 30 seconds. Rest five seconds. Repeat five times.

Standing side bends
Stand with your back against a wall, exhale and tighten your abdominal muscles.
Raise your right arm over your head, resting it against the wall.
Put your left hand on your waist and bend your body to the left.
Hold five seconds. Repeat on the opposite side. Do three sets on each side.

Back bends
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
Place your hands on the small of your back.
Keep your head upright, not bending back.
Then gently bend backwards from the waist.
Hold 15 seconds. Repeat three times.

Sitting trunk rotation
Sit on a chair and cross your arms at shoulder height.
Turn your head, shoulders and upper trunk to the right.
Hold five seconds. Repeat on the opposite side. Do three sets on each side.

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Shoulder stretch
Bring your left arm across your body and hold it with your right arm, either above or below the elbow.
Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch arms and repeat.

Arm stretch
Place the palms of your hands flat together in front of your chest.
Flex your wrists at 90 degrees.
Keeping the palms together, push your hands up in front of you until your elbows touch.
Return your hand to their original position. Repeat a few times.

Hamstring stretch
You'll need a chair, stool, stair or some other low support for this exercise - choose something that will support your leg at hip height.
Place your heel on the chair or support.
Bend your other knee slightly, keeping your back straight.
Lean forward from your hips, keeping your spine straight, with your hands folded behind your back.
Hold 20-30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Do three sets on each side.

Hip flexor stretch
Stand facing a wall and support yourself by placing your right hand on the wall.
Bend your left leg up behind your back and grasp your ankle with your left hand.
Pull gently, until you feel a stretch on the top of your thigh.
Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg (placing your left hand on the wall). Do three sets on each side.

Wall slide
Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart.
Relax your shoulders and exhale.
Place your hands on your thighs and slowly slide down the wall.
When your legs are bent at a 90 degree angle to your hips, stop and hold the position for 15-20 seconds.
Slowly slide back up the wall, keeping your back against the wall.
Inhale and relax. Repeat two times.

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More healthy stretches

The Mayo Clinic has produced an excellent series of stretching videos and a step-by-step slide show about stretching major muscle groups.

And don’t forget to check out Deskercises for more great exercises you can do at work.

Follow these safe lifting techniques whenever you lift heavy loads.

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