One of the worst things for any fitness regimen is injury. You’ve just gotten into a good regular routine, you’re starting to see noticeable improvements in your strength, endurance and flexibility, and then it all comes to a crashing halt.

You wait, you heal and things start to get better again, but you can’t just jump right back in. You have to build it up slowly, gently encouraging your muscles into the moves that were once easy to you before you can even think about going for the big stuff.

The most important thing about trying to get your body back to full fitness is listening to your doctor or physical therapist. It’s so tempting to try to do exactly what you were doing before, but they’ll know how to tailor your exercise to your specific situation.

We all know that flexibility is something that improves gradually but can be destroyed in an instant. Broken bones and torn muscles mean stiffness, if not outright pain, that can last long past the original injury. The moment you add more stress, you risk that damage becoming permanent.

It’s particularly important with flexibility exercises because these are a crucial part of the general recovery routine you should go through after every workout. Stretching just after your warmup or during cooldown means you are less likely to injure yourself during your running or aerobics – or any other type of sport.

Stretching allows you to maintain the proper range of motion. You do need to warm your muscles up a bit first; be extra careful if you have been injured recently and are still in recovery mode. There’s a good kind of ache that comes from stretching properly, but it shouldn’t be outright painful. You shouldn’t be pushing your body far past where it is comfortable.

A lot of this is about acceptance. It’s about knowing your own limits and acknowledging that your body isn’t necessarily going to be the same as everyone else’s. Everybody has a different natural range of motion and a different point at which they become worn out. Work with yourself and your own needs, and don’t judge yourself by other people’s standards.

Injuries can have a devastating impact on fitness, and overtraining can be a major cause of injuries. Self-awareness and adequate rest are vital parts of remaining healthy in general and flexible in particular.

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