Stretching is a very important part of exercising that is often overlooked, and yet it can make a big difference to how your muscles recover after exercising. It is quite often missed out altogether at the end of exercising or only done for a few seconds.
Stretching should be incorporated into your daily routine whether it’s to improve your workout, for your health and wellbeing or to improve mobility and flexibility.
– Increases flexibility. This is so important for your overall health as this enables you to carry out daily activities easily as well as helping to delay the decrease in mobility as we age. Muscles become lengthened and supple when stretching.
– Increases range of motion (ROM). Stretching will give you a greater range of motion and reduce stiffness, making it easier to move, as well as improving balance and coordination.
– Improves workout. You will get a much better workout if you keep your muscles’ supple with dynamic stretching before working out, as this allows for deeper movements when strength training.
– Reduces injuries. Many injuries are caused by poor flexibility such as cramps, headaches, lower back pain and pulled muscles. Stretching increases flexibility which, in turn, reduces the risk of an injury or pain.
– Improves posture. Weak muscles can lead to poor posture. Stretching can help to align the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles thereby reducing inflammation in the joints. Stretching the lower back, chest and shoulders helps to keep the back in alignment.
– Reduces stress. Your muscles tighten up when you are stressed and stretching can ease the tension by helping your mind and body to relax.
– Reduces back pain. If you have tight muscles, your range of motion will be decreased which increases the risk of straining muscles in the back. Stretching can help to repair back injuries.
– Improves blood circulation. This will help nutrients to get to the cells and also get rid of waste byproducts. Blood can also get to knotty tissue more easily, helping to reduce pain and muscle soreness.
What stretches should I do?
The two main types of stretching are dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching should be done before exercise to warm up the muscles and involves movement through the full range of motion without holding the stretch. Static stretching is where you stretch until you feel tension and then hold that position for a number of seconds, and is done at the end of the workout in order to loosen up and calm the muscles. These stretches help to increase your flexibility and range of motion as well as reducing the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Try the following stretches daily to increase your flexibility and range of motion:
1) Overhead triceps (triceps) – Stand with your feet hip width apart. Reach your right arm towards the ceiling and bend the elbow so that your hand is reaching towards the centre of your back, keeping the palm facing your back. Use your left hand to gently push your right elbow and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat with the other arm.
2) Shoulder stretch (shoulder) – Stand with feet hip width apart and take the left arm across the chest, so that it is parallel with the floor. Bend the right arm up and use your forearm to pull the left arm in towards your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other arm.
3) Ab stretch (abs, chest, shoulders) – Lie on the floor on your front and place your hands by your shoulders. Press through your hands to lift up as far as is comfortable. Hold for 30 seconds.
4) Back stretch (upper back) – Stand with feet hip width apart. Interlock your fingers and raise your arms up, pushing your hands away from your body. Hold for 30 seconds.
5) Neck stretch (top of neck, lower back of head) – Sit or stand and slowly take your left ear towards your left shoulder, keeping your shoulders and back still. Use your hand to gently hold the head in the stretch for 10 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
6) Spinal twist (glutes, obliques, back, chest) – Lie on your back with your legs straight. Keep your left leg straight and pull your right knee into your chest. Cross your right knee over your left hip towards the floor. Extend your arms out to the side in line with your shoulders with your palms facing the ceiling. Turn your head to the right for an extra stretch (avoid this if you have neck problems). Hold for 10-20 seconds and then release the leg back to the floor. Repeat on the other side.
7) Single leg forward bend stretch (back, shoulders, hamstrings, calves) – sit with your left leg straight out in front of you and place the sole of the right foot against the left thigh. Inhale and lift your arms up high, exhale and bend forwards from the hips until your hands are resting on your straight leg, either on the foot, leg or on the floor. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
8) Adductor stretch (inner thigh) – Stand and take a step to the left. Keep your back straight and bend the left leg until you feel a stretch in your right inner thigh. Hold for 10-30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
9) Glute stretch (glutes, hips) – Lie on the floor with your legs bent so that your knees are above your hips. Cross your right ankle over your left knee and pull your left leg towards your chest by placing your hands around your thigh. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
9) Quad stretch (quads) – Stand and hold onto something if needed for balance. Hold your left foot (or top of ankle) and pull towards your bum. Try to keep your knees together. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
10) Butterfly stretch (hips, inner thighs, knees, groin) – Sit on the floor with your legs bent in front of you so that the soles of your feet are touching, in front of your groin. Hold your feet with your hands and rest your elbows on your knees, keeping your back straight. Let your knees fall towards the floor, gently pressing with your elbows until you feel a stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
1) Side shuffles (glutes, hips, thighs, calves) – Stand and bend your knees, then take 5 quick steps to one side and reach down and touch the floor, then repeat to the other side. Repeat for 30-40 seconds.
2) Hip circles (hips, core, quads, hamstrings) – Stand on one leg, holding on to something if you need to. Take your outside leg out to the side and make small circles. Circle 20 times one way and then 20 times the opposite way. Repeat with the other leg.
3) Lunge with twist (glutes, quads, hamstrings, core, spine, hips) – Stand and slowly lunge forward with your right leg. Hold the lunge position and twist to the right over the bent leg. Push back up and repeat with the other leg. Do 5 reps on either side.
4) Side lunges (quads, glutes, hamstrings, adductors, abductors) – Stand and take a big step to the right. Bend your right knee and, keeping your head and chest up, push your hips back and take your weight over your right foot into a lunge. Push back up to standing and repeat the move for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
5) Leg swings (calves, quads, hamstrings) – Stand with your hands on your hips and slowly swing one leg forwards and backwards in a small motion building up to larger swings. Do 20 and then repeat on the other leg.
6) Calf raises (calves) – Stand with feet hip width apart and slowly raise up onto your toes and lower back down. Repeat for 30-60 seconds.
7) Arm circles (shoulders, triceps, biceps) – Stand with your arms out to the sides and make small circles, rotating slowly. Do 20 circles one way and then reverse the motion and do 20 circles in the opposite direction. You can build up to making larger circles, taking them in front, upwards and backwards until you get back to the front.
8) Arm crosses (chest, back) – Cross your arms to give yourself a hug, then take the arms out wide to open the chest. Repeat the movement for 30 seconds.
9) Shoulder shrugs (trapezius) – Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, then take them back and round in a circle. Do 30 seconds one way and change direction for another 30 seconds.
10) Waist twists (abs, glutes, lower back, hips, pelvis) – Stand straight with your feet hip width apart, and your arms out in front of you with one forearm on top of the other. Slowly twist your torso from one side to the other. Do 20 reps (10 to each side).
Make sure to stretch safely by:
1) Starting gently, moving slowly at your own pace and only until you feel the stretch.
2) Not overstretching or bouncing in the stretches.
3) Progressing as your muscles become more flexible.
4) Stopping if you feel any pain. Stretching shouldn’t be painful, so if it hurts, lessen the stretch a little.
5) Keep breathing throughout the stretch.
6) Try dynamic stretching before you exercise and static stretching afterwards.
Don’t skimp on stretching! It’s easy to increase your flexibility and range of motion with stretching, but it does take time so get started today and see how quickly you can feel a difference. Speak to your doctor if you have any injuries before starting a stretching programme.
Caroline & Hannah xx