The best home fitness programs include three components, cardiovascular workouts, strength training, and flexibility. While it's easy to overlook the importance of flexibility training, spending a little time improving your mobility and range of motion can go a long way in preventing injury and improving your performance in your other workouts. Flexibility work is no longer limited to long periods of stretching (though those can be beneficial at times). It now includes dynamic movements and range of motion work directly targeted at improving your workouts and assisting in injury prevention. The best part about bringing stretching and flexibility work into your home workouts is the way it improves your functioning and reduces soreness from day to day, while requiring only a modest investment of time. Ready to get started?

Before and after your cardio workout are the ideal times to include mobility work and stretching exercises, but you should treat these times very differently. Early in the workout, your muscles are not yet warmed up and will have a reduced range of motion. Stretching and mobility work at this time, should target areas that you are experiencing tightness, stiffness, or injury, as well as introduce the range of motion that you will need during your planned workout. For most athletes, this work should target your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, hips, and shoulders. Rather than holding one position, you'll want to repeat moving in and out of a position fluidly and slowly. Before the workout avoid deep held stretches, especially in the hamstrings and low back as these can reduce the elasticity of your muscles that you need to perform your cardiovascular activity. Keep reading for the best pre and post workout stretching routines! Pre Workout: Next time you work out, start with a light five minute warm up, and then add in these pre-workout stretches.

Quad Stretch/Dancer Pose: Standing with your feet at hip distance, take hold of the top of your right foot in your right hand (you can also use a yoga strap to assist with this). Bring your knees together to evenly stretch the front of your thigh (position 1). Now kick back into your hand to bring your knee behind your hip and to level your hips toward the ground (position 2). Return to the starting position. Slowly repeat five times. Repeat on the left leg.

Knee Ups: Standing on your right leg, bring your left knee up to your chest, clasp with both hands to hug it in closer. Now step forward onto the left leg and repeat on the right. Repeat five times on each side. This warms up the hamstrings and prepares the hip flexors for the work of running or cycling.

Calf/Achilles stretch: Step your right leg directly back behind you at a distance that allows your heel to reach the ground and your toes to point straight ahead. Keeping the toes in the same position, slowly raise and lower your heel five times. Repeat on the other side. This prepares your calves for the work of running or the elliptical.

Shoulder mobility: Holding a resistance band in each hand and applying little resistance to it, raise your hands from in front of your hips to overhead and then behind. You can also make a figure 8 pattern with the band. Repeat five times in each direction. This warms the shoulders to prepare for strength training and improves range of motion for daily activity.

Cat/Cow: Kneeling on all fours, inhale and allow your stomach to drop towards the floor, extending the spine downwards (Cow pose) then exhale and press your stomach upwards, flexing the spine towards the ceiling (Cat pose). Repeat five times. This activates the core, reduces low back pain, and prepares the spine for exercise or daily activity. Read on for Part II on the Best Stretching Exercises to do After You Work Out!

What about stretching after a workout? Stretching afterwards is also very important to help restore muscles so you can keep up with your routine. Click here to read another blog that includes the best post-workout stretches suggested by certified fitness trainer, Joli.

About the writer: Joli Guenther is a certified personal trainer, yoga instructor and clinical social worker practicing in and around Madison, Wisconsin.