Before embarking on an exercise routine or engaging in any prolonged physical activity, it's important to establish a stretch routine. Stretching, in addition to being intrinsic to good health and mobility, is also one of the tools that will greatly increase the benefits that general exercise affords.
Why Stretching Is Important
The muscles and connective tissues in our bodies shorten and stiffen over time, thus reducing flexibility and in some cases, limiting movement. If you have not exercised in a long while or even if you are used to long periods of inactivity (such as sitting at a desk at work), your joints and muscles can become stiff and your range of motion can become restricted. Beginning to exercise without first warming up and stretching the muscles puts you at a greater risk of injury. Muscle strains, ligament tears and other injuries can be avoided by adopting a stretching routine before beginning exercise, as stretching warms up and loosens the muscles.
Another benefit of stretching is that it raises the levels of oxygen and nutrients being delivered to cartilage and muscles, which results in a reduced amount of muscle soreness after exercise. Other benefits of stretching before exercise include:
- Increased flexibility
- Improved balance and posture
- Less cramping, stiffness and muscle soreness
- Toning and sculpting of the muscles
- Lower stress levels
- Boosting energy levels
How to Stretch Effectively
Although it is essential to stretch before and after exercise, it is also important to warm the muscles up before doing any stretching. Stretching muscles while they are cold and stiff could lead to serious injury. Prepare your muscles by engaging in some gentle cardiovascular activity such as walking. After 5 to 10 minute, your muscles should be sufficiently warm and you can begin attempting small stretches, gradually increasing your range until your muscles are fully relaxed.
- Consult a personal trainer or fitness professional who can help you draw up a proper stretching routine
- Ensure that any stretches you perform are comfortable; overexerting yourself can lead to injury
- Remember to breathe slowly while stretching.
- Spend between 5 and 10 minutes stretching
- Stretch before and after exercise
Examples of Stretches
There are stretches to work muscles all over the body and it's important to ensure that your routine incorporates actions that will give you a full-body stretch workout. Some examples of stretches include:
- Shoulder Stretch - Cross one arm horizontally across your chest, holding it in place above the elbow with your other hand or forearm. Pull the horizontal arm in towards your chest using the other hand, keeping your back straight and your shoulders facing forward. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds.
- Groin Stretch - In a seated position, put the soles of your feet together with your knees pointing outwards. Gripping your ankles with your elbows inside the area of your knees, gently push down until you feel a stretch. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds before relaxing.
- Bridge Stretch - Begin by lying flat on your back. Placing your feet flat on the floor, raise your hips up off the ground until your body forms a bridge. Ensure that your shoulders and head remain on the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds to stretch the lower back and quadriceps.