Stretching is like flossing: We know we should stretch but we rarely take the time to do it - and I'm guilty as charged. For the next three-and-a-half weeks I'm overhauling my fitness plan and eating plan. Along with that commitment, I'm also dedicating more time to stretching. I've committed to this now because I think it's the perfect time of year to regain focus. The summer is over and there is time before the holidays hit in the not too distant future. It's the perfect time to leverage my way back into tip top shape. I'm focusing on stretching because it's the one area I tend to skip; it's my weak link. It's easy to focus on things you're good at or like to do, but a complete fitness program encompasses more than just lifting weights. It may be boring, but understanding the importance of it can refresh your attitude about it. Most people think you get stronger when you exercise, also believing that muscles break down and become weaker when we sit around doing nothing. That thought process couldn't be furthest from the truth. The reality is that muscle breaks down during exercise and rebuilds it while resting. To be successful, you must strike a balance between exercise and rest. A significant part of the recovery process is stretching. Inflexible muscles prevent you from performing exercises through their full range of motion. To build muscles effectively, you must work them through a full range of motion. What does this mean outside of the gym? Think about when you go to pick up your next case of beer. Your calf muscles probably have a shortened range of muscle, so it becomes increasing difficult to squat. A poor squat places the load onto your spine, resulting in potentially throwing your back out. Being inflexible can also be the cause of low back pain. Tight hamstrings shorten, and when your hamstrings shorten, they pull your hips down, resulting in lower back pain. Problems arise because, as with exercise, there is a certain amount of technique to stretching. Stretching to the point of severe discomfort isn't necessary. In fact, it potentially increases your chance of injury. The rule of thumb is that you should stretch at least half of the time you work out. So, if you exercise 90 minutes per week, you should stretch 45 minutes per week. Leverage Fitness Studio offers Fusion Flexibility, a 60-minute class consisting of yoga, Pilates, and some strength exercises blended together to give you a full body workout. Contact Leverage Fitness Studio at 570.338.2386 or visit its Facebook page for more information. -Tim Hlivia is the owner of Leverage Fitness Studio in Forty Fort.