Strength training, endurance, flexibility and cardiac capacity are four of the building blocks of fitness. But without stretching, you could put your entire effort into jeopardy. That’s how important the fifth fitness building block, stretching, is to your overall health.
You should be putting in about 10 minutes of stretching after your workout – as well as limbering up before you exercise. It’s also okay to fit stretching exercise into your nightly routine.
Here’s why it’s important to promote flexibility:
- Less muscle stiffness.
- Decreased joint stiffness.
- Better posture.
- Less stress.
- Improved circulation.
- Enhanced performance.
What should you stretch? Ideally, you’ll want to target every major muscle group, including:
Sit down on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Bend one leg so that the bottom of your foot is facing the interior knee of the opposite leg. Sit as tall as you can, then face the foot of your extended leg and lean your torso over as far as you can without pain. Reach your hands toward your toes while your toes are pointed up at all times and the knee of your straight leg is flat on the floor. To increase flexibility, use a yoga strap or a towel around the ball of your foot to assist the stretch. Remember to breathe so your muscles get the oxygen they need to move. Hold this stretch for 20 seconds on each leg.
Groin and inner thigh.
Sitting on the floor, place the soles of your feet together with your knees bent and extended out. Move your heels a comfortable distance from your body, and, using your arms, gently push down on your knees to feel the stretch in your inner thighs. Make sure to keep your upper body tall and your neck long during this stretch, as if someone is pulling your head up with a string. You don’t have to get your knees all the way to the ground, just do what is comfortable for you. Hold for 20 seconds.
Lay on your back. Keeping your feet on the floor, bend both knees up into a sit-up position. Place your left ankle over your right knee with your foot flexed. Reach through your legs and pull your right knee toward your torso, keeping your back flat on the ground. You should feel a stretch in your right hip. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat on the other side. You can also do this stretch while sitting on a bench. Cross your legs, placing one ankle on top of the other knee, and with both hands reach down toward the ankle that is on the floor. Make sure to keep your hands on each side of your lowered leg.
Sitting or standing, face a wall with your arms outstretched. Place your right palm flat on the wall. Keeping the right arm straight, rotate your body away from the arm so that you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulder and all the way down your arm to your wrist. Hold the stretch on each side for 20 seconds.
While you’re standing, flex one arm, making an L shape with your palm open and facing forward. Place that arm against a wall corner. Walk a step forward until you feel a stretch in your chest. Your upper arm should be parallel to the floor at all times. Hold for a count of ten, and then switch sides. This stretch is great, especially if you are working on fixing your posture because it releases your chest muscles leaving space for your back to pull backward.
While standing, hold on to something in front of you that is stable and chest high with both hands. Lean backward, bend your chin to your chest, and squat slightly with a rounded back. You’re going to feel this stretch on both sides of your upper back. Hold this position for 20 seconds, then do a small rotation of your hips to one side and then the other until you feel the stretch on each side of your lower back. Hold for 10 seconds on each side.
While standing or sitting straight, let your neck tilt to the right side ear to shoulder using its own gravity. Place your right hand on the left side of your head to gently pull the ear toward the shoulder. Breathe deep for 10 to15 seconds while you feel the stretch. Keeping the hand position, turn your head to look at your armpit and hold for 10 seconds. Still keeping the hand position, rotate your head to look at the sky for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Do these stretches two to three times a week and you’ll watch your flexibility soar. For more great health and fitness tips, visit The Well Path community.