To avoid risk of injury to your joints and muscles, stretching exercises are very important and play a vital role. These are a must as you warm up for a vigorous workout or post a workout when you want your body to cool down. Experts believe that stretching exercises calm the mind and help alleviate stress.
And the best part? All you need is 10 minutes to do a whole body stretch, and the end result will be a more flexible body where all joints are worked, all muscles are warmed up and geared towards a good workout session.
Why Is A Stretch So Useful?
Stretches come in handy for two things – prevention of injury and even treatment of injury. Since stretching increases flexibility of muscles, ligaments and tendons it reduces risk to injury during weight lifting. As the muscles and tendons loosen up, they are less likely to experience wear and tear. It helps improve muscle recovery post a workout and enhances athletic performance. This is why most athletes depend so much on stretching, as stretching offers enhanced biomechanical efficiency. Some experts also believe that stretching improves flexibility in shoulder, upper back and neck muscles which improves breathing during a workout and even after a workout.
For different individuals, the baseline flexibility varies. Some have flexible shoulders but inflexible hips while others might feel tightness in their hamstring while their upper body is very flexible. Flexibility is also dependent on injury, genetics and biomechanins, and to improve flexibility one must practice stretching exercises religiously every day. The aim is to elongate muscles, reduce soreness caused by sitting for too long at a chair or sleeping in the wrong position, and to make each muscle group loosen up before vigorous weight lifting exercises are undertaken. Don’t give up on a stretching regimen within 2 weeks because you don’t see the benefits; the usefulness of stretching only becomes clear after following the program consistently.
4 Important Rules To Adhere To While Stretching
Before you start stretching, read up on these rules you must never forget.
- Never stretch before a slight warm up. If you stretch cold muscles, they are more prone to injury. Walk, spot job or skip before you start stretching.
- Make sure that you stretch each muscle group on a gentle, slow manner. Don’t rush stretching as movements that are too fast or jerky can again cause injury. Take your time and concentrate on breathing while you stretch.
- You need to hold each stretch in position for 10 to 15 seconds. This lengthens your muscles and helps them work to their full potential.
- Never bounce while stretching. Bouncing makes muscles contract, not lengthen. Make sure you don’t stretch beyond the point of resistance. Stretching never hurts; if your stretching is causing you pain it only means you are over stretching, which will only increase risk to injury.
How To Do A Correct Stretch?
Ideally, there are 3 kinds of stretches. Static stretch, Ballistic stretch and PNF stretch (also called as proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation). For athletes the best stretch is the static stretch, as it has least likelihood of causing injury to muscles and doesn’t require any expertise. The other 2 stretches are ideal for those who understand the intricacies of these stretches better and are well adept to their usage. Ballistic stretches use momentum of a moving body part to do a stretch and is not for beginners. They are dynamic stretches, means that unlike static stretches they require motion. These PNF stretches aim to improve maximum flexibility by combining isometric stretching with passive stretching.
It is recommended that stretching be done post a warm up, so that increased blood flow to the limbs and muscles aids in improving flexibility. This is what helps in injury prevention. Also, alternate between muscle groups and between sides while stretching. Stretch a body part to maximum resistance point that doesn’t cause pain, hold for 10 seconds and then repeat the stretch 3 to 5 times for maximum results.
Also, it is best to start stretching exercises from the neck to the toe, targeting each muscle group in between because this way you can take the advantage of the improved flexibility in muscles stretched previously and your stretching will follow a more disciplined pattern.
Don’t forget to also stretch post a workout to help aid in muscle recovery.
Basic Stretching Exercises
Try these basic stretching exercises for improved flexibility. These are exercises that target the back and the legs and increase flexibility so that you can do weight training with ease.
- Posterior Thigh – Sit on a bench and place your right leg on the bench, keeping the left leg hanging with the left foot on the ground. Slowly bend forward and touch your right toe, until you feel a stretch behind your right knee and calf. Repeat by placing your left leg on the table and touching the left toe while the right foot is planted on the ground. Point your toes upwards to feel more stretch in the claves.
- Calf stretch – Stand 2 feet away from a wall and place your hands on the wall to support your body. Bend forward by bending elbows, remembering not to bend the waist at all. You will feel a stretch in your calf muscles if you lean your hips forward without bending at the knees. Don’t move your heels; the stretch must be done with your whole foot planted firmly on the ground.
- Anterior thigh – Stand 1 foot away from a chair and hold the chair with one arm to get support. With the other hand, hold the instep of one foot and pull your heel upwards, by bending the knee. Make sure you stand erect during the stretch and don’t lean forward. Try and touch the heel of the foot to your buttock. Repeat with the other leg also.
- Inner thigh – Sit on the ground and bring the soles of your feet together and let them touch. Then place both hands on your knees, and push towards the ground slowly and gently. Now, bend forward while keeping your hands on your knees and holding the position. The further you can bend and the closer you can bring your nose to touch your feet without causing any pain, the better the stretch.