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The Art of Stretching

It's 12:35 p.m., exactly 35 minutes before the Redskins are scheduled to face the Atlanta Falcons on Week 13 of the 2006 NFL season.

That's also the time when John Hastings lines up the Redskins along the 20-yard line at FedExField to begin one of the most important facets of an NFL team's regimen.

Hastings, the Redskins' head strength and conditioning coach, will lead the team in group stretching.

Says Hastings: "It's one of the most important things we do. Many times, athletes don't pay enough attention to the stretching aspect of their game or workout. That can be a serious mistake."

Whether you're an NFL star or a weekend, recreational athlete, you need to learn more about stretching. Incorporate it into your routine, not just before the activity or workout, but after it as well.

Sports fitness experts emphasize that total fitness involves three kinds of physical exercise-aerobic, strength and flexibility. Each has the ability to provide a different benefit.

In terms of what's known as flexibility fitness, in order to increase the range of motion for muscles and joints, stretching is key. It also is a key preventative measure that can help you avoid injuries.

With the Redskins, Hastings is assisted by Bobby Crumpler and Tony Spinosa. The threesome is responsible for making sure the Redskins are well stretched prior to each practice and game.

According to Spinosa, most Redskins players don't wait until the regularly-scheduled group stretching period that takes place 35 minutes before kickoff. It's in the team's locker room, he says, where players seek out a particular strength and conditioning coach for an individual stretch.

"So to speak, it's like a pre-stretch, stretch," Spinosa adds. "And the thing of it is, most players are really superstitious. They'll go to the same person to get stretched out every week. I have my own group of players, so does Bobby and John."

All of this takes place approximately an hour prior to the kickoff. When players are feeling somewhat limber, then head out to the field for light jogging, "just to get the blood flowing," says Spinosa.

Then comes 12:25 p.m., when Hastings takes over and the group stretch ensues.

Torso twists. Shoulder rolls. Lower back, groin and hamstring stretches.

"Without a good stretch," he states, "an athlete can't expect to be able to compete. It's as simple as that. Without stretching, an athlete becomes more like a statue."

If the Redskins take the stretching phase of their day in such a serious light, certainly you, no matter what your sport or activity, should, too.

Hastings puts it this way: "For any athlete, strength training and aerobics are important. The other component is stretching and flexibility. You really need all three in order to perform at a high level."

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