It is an unfortunate fact but as we move on in life our bodies become less flexible. To help, here are six stretches for greater flexibility.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that you necessarily become less flexible as time passes. It just means that you have to work a bit more to address this aspect of your physical health.
You know that lifting weights will make you stronger and that working out will improve your cardio fitness irrespective of your age. It’s the same with flexibility. But, if you don’t look after it, it will decline.
There are numerous impacts on your body when your flexibility declines ranging from everyday loss in the range of motion, so that even walking becomes a chore, to inability to perform more physical tasks that would otherwise be well within your ability.
Many studies have shown that flexibility training (dedicated attention over time to muscle stretching as part of an exercise program) directly improves muscle function. With greater increased flexibility you will experience:
- Improved performance in daily activities
- Better posture – so you look and feel better
- Enhanced strength and better muscular performance
- Improvements in your overall performance in more intense physical activities
- A reduced risk of injury
- A greater ability to overcome or avoid low level, but nagging, pains
Together, these mean you can do more, feel better and maintain a more youthful appearance. So be sure to make flexibility exercise a part of your life.
Why Don’t We Stretch Enough?
Why don’t we do a lot of the things that we know are good for us? Why don’t you ensure you get enough sleep? Why don’t you eat the right foods in the right amounts? Why don’t you … – I’ll leave you to fill in the rest.
Stretching falls in this category. But here are some of the most common reasons why people don’t do enough stretches for their flexibility and how you can avoid these excuses.
You Just Don’t Have the Time
Looking after your flexibility does indeed take a bit of time. Ideally, you should certainly stretch before and after every workout, but you should also do a short stretching routine a few times a day. These should be at times such as first thing in the morning and when you have been sitting for a period.
Many people do indeed stretch informally at these times. But when you set aside the time for a workout the chances are that you will fill it, as far as you can, with the main events: strength and cardio exercises.
Time allowed specifically for stretches for greater flexibility will be well down on your thinking. You need to address this.
However, when you are doing a cardio or strength exercise, you will be very aware of the purpose of the exercise. And you will also likely see results within a fairly short time.
This is not the case with flexibility training where results are more subtle and take time. But if this is ignored, your ability to undertake the other exercises will be affected.
It’s important, therefore, to build time into your routine for stretching. But don’t see this as additional time. Rather, see it as time spent to improve the quality and the impact of the other exercises to build fitness while reducing the risk of injuries.
Emphasise the importance of including stretching exercises. If time is very limited, reduce the time spent on other parts of the routine by 10 minutes to make space for stretching.
If you don’t wish to do so, replace some sessions with classes that are highly targeted on flexibility, such as yoga or Pilates.
You Find Stretching Unpleasant or it Hurts
If you haven’t stretched in a while you will find it unpleasant to start. This will be particularly the case if you jump in and try to do too much.
The fact is that if you try to overdo it, the stretching will be painful. This will turn you off trying.
Worse, it can injure you. And, worse still, over-stretching is not even effective. If you overstretch so that you muscle experiences pain, other muscles in that parts of your body will tighten to counteract the force you are applying to limit the impact on your body.
Tighter muscles is exactly the opposite of what you want to achieve. So, take it easy. Start with no more than fairly gentle pressure.
Relax and take a deep breath. Remember to always focus on correct breathing, when stretching as much as in other exercising.
Ease into the stretch as you exhale. Avoid sudden movements.
Go as far as to feel you have pushed yourself a bit. Stop as soon as you feel pain.
Remember: stretching should never cause you pain.
You Don’t Know How or Where To Start
This can be a real issue for someone who has just taken up exercise or who has been working out but not stretching formally. What to do first?
Don’t make up your own stretches. Not only will you have a hard time finding effective stretches, but it can actually be dangerous to reach and twist in ways that aren’t meant to be done.
Find a source of help. If you are in a gym then there will always be an instructor whom you can ask. If not, there’s always the internet.
But try to put together a stretching routine that suits you. And then commit to doing it as often as you can.
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Six Stretches for Greater Flexibility
To get you started, here’s a short routine of stretches that are good for improving flexibility. The ones at the start are a bit easier for a beginner but you can do them in whatever order you like best.
1. Standing Hamstring Stretch
This exercise is about as simple as a stretch can get but it needs to be done correctly to get the full benefits.
Again, the focus is on the muscles towards the back of your body by stretching your neck, back, glutes, hamstrings and calves.
To do this stretch:
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, your knees slightly bent, and your arms by your sides. Breathe in normally.
- Exhale and as you do so bend forward at the hips, lowering your head towards the floor. Make sure you keep your head, neck and shoulders relaxed and just left them drop smoothly towards the floor.
- Try not to let your legs bend any more then at the start. Place your hands on your knees and then bring your arms around the backs of your legs. Don’t overdo it; you are not trying to touch the floor.
- Hold this position for a minute, longer if you prefer.
- Bend your knees and gently roll up stacking your spine back to a standing position.
This is a good stretch with which to end a workout session and should leave you feeling relaxed.
2. The Pyramid
This exercise stretches your hamstrings and lower back and allows you to practice balancing with both feet on the ground. It is simple enough to allow beginners to try it, but the intensity can be increased as you get more used to it.
If you have particularly tight hamstrings as the start you can use a low support or chair on the floor beside you and aim to reach to that level rather than towards the floor.
Remember to breathe evenly when doing this stretch and also focus on your alignment by ensuring your feet are in line as if you are standing on a balance beam.
Follow these steps:
1) Stand up straight and step the inside of your left foot directly behind your right foot about 6-8 inches. Place your back foot at an angle to ensure your balance.
2) Inhale and reach both your arms high over your head thereby lengthening your spine.
3) Exhale slowly and reach both hands towards your shin and then, as far as you are able, towards the floor. Bend your front knee slightly if you need to lower the stretch.
4) Let your chest rest over your front leg and relax the back of your neck. Breathe slowly and feel the stretch into your left hamstring. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
5) Stand up straight and reverse the positions of your feet. Redo the movement to feel the stretch into your other hamstring and again hold for 30 seconds.
3. Downward Dog
This yoga pose is very effective for stretching your lower back, hamstrings, lower legs and feet. It’s also very simple to do and can be easily adapted to beginners and the more flexible by applying more pressure towards the ground.
The impact on the lower legs is most important and pronounced. This helps avoid tight calf muscles that can lead to Achilles tendon injury and foot problems.
Unlike other stretches where you may feel tightness, the feeling with this stretch is often a sensation of relief as tightness in your lower back is eased. When the pressure is increased it also builds strength in the back.
Proceed as follows:
2) Tuck your toes under and engage your abdominals as you push your body up off the mat so only your hands and feet are on the mat.
3) Press through your hands moving your chest gently toward your thighs and your heels gently toward the floor.
5) Lower your knees towards the floor and kneel for a moment. Repeat the exercise.
This is a particularly good exercise for anyone with tight hamstrings, which is most people. Your ability to perform cardio exercises afterwards will be enhanced. It is also very good for relieving lower back pain and strengthening the upper back.
4. Standing Side Bend
This exercise stretches the spine and obliques and promotes better posture while also strengthening your legs. It’s a good one if you have been sitting at a desk or driving for a period of time, as well as before or after a workout.
It’s also a good one to tell you if you need to concentrate on improving your flexibility.
Follow these 3 steps:
1) Stand tall with your feet and legs together. Reach both your arms straight up overhead as you inhale.
2) You can keep both your hands above your head or else lower your right arm down the right side of your body and exhale. As you do so, lengthen your left arm over your head and bend your body gently to the right. Hold for 3 seconds.
3) Inhale and as you do so return both your arms to over your head. Exhale and repeat the movement on the left side.
Repeat this twice more taking care to focus on your breathing. Exhaling will improve the range of movement.
But be sure to stand straight and do not lean either forward or backward. As you bend to the side, make sure to squeeze the legs together to give you a base of support and help you bend.
5. Runner’s Lunge
This exercise is targeted on your hips, groin and legs. Lack of hip flexibility is a common issue and this simple move will also help to relieve tension.
Before you do this stretch you will need to be familiar with doing a ‘plank’. This is a simply exercise similar to the first part of a press-up.
To get to the plank, lie flat on the floor with your front on the floor. Bring your arms up towards your shoulders with your elbows pointing away from the floor.
Place your hands on the floor and press to raise your body off the floor. Keep your hands directly below your shoulders.
Ensure a straight line from your shoulders right down to your feet so that your back is not arched. You should not feel pressure on your back. If you do, raise your hips further away from the floor.
Hold the plank for a second or two.
To perform the stretch:
- In the plank position, step your right foot forward to the outer edge of your mat next to the outside of your right hand.
- Relax through your hips and back, letting them sink toward the ground.
- You may raise your head slightly but don’t put pressure on your neck or back. Breathe and hold for 30 seconds.
- Lift your hips slightly and move your right foot back to beside your left foot. You are once again in the plank position. Hold for 3 seconds.
- Bring your left foot forward and repeat the exercise. When finished, return briefly to the plank position and then lower your body to the mat.
It is important to relax the hips towards the ground during the lunge. This makes it a particularly good exercise for recovery after a workout as placing your hands on the floor means you can sink deeper in to the stretch.
It can be a very good way to warm up your legs and hips for a workout. If you are using it in this way, hold the position for a much shorter time.
When you move from the plank into the lunge, inhale as you step forward and then exhale when you step back. Repeat it a number of times on each side.
6. Lunge with Spinal Twist
This is a slightly more advanced stretch and requires a reasonable degree of flexibility and balance to do it right. It is suitable for beginners, but don’t overdo the twist until you get used to it.
It’s particularly good for posture and for people who may have been sitting for a prolonged period due to its concentration on hip flexibility and mid-back mobility by stretching the hip flexors, quads and back muscles.
To do this stretch:
- Start in a standing position with your feet together.
- Take a big step forward with your left foot, so that you are in a staggered stance.
- Bend your left knee and drop into a lunge, keeping your right leg straight behind you with your toes on the ground. At this stage you should be feeling a stretch at the front of your right thigh, but not in your groin or your lower back.
- Place your right hand on the floor and twist your upper body to the left as you extend your left arm toward the ceiling. Although you should keep your arm stretched away from your body, only twist as far towards the ceiling as you are comfortable with. Do not place excess pressure on your back.
- Hold for this position for at least 30 seconds and longer when you are used to the exercise.
- Bring your left arm back to the ground and repeat the exercise raising your right arm towards the ceiling while stretching it away from your body. Hold.
- Bring both hands back to the ground and stand up straight.
It’s Worth Doing Stretches for Greater Flexibility
Good luck with these stretches for greater flexibility. Be careful you don’t overdo it to begin. Stretching should never cause you pain.
The benefits in the long term will more than outweigh the efforts you put in.