One often overlooked but integral part to any fitness regimen is STRETCHING!
Not only does it help you warm up before a workout, but it can help you prevent injury, prevent or relieve pain, improve range of motion and flexibility, counterbalance cardio, weight lifting, and intense exercise, and of course improve flexibility and range of motion. In addition to stretching before your workout, it is also beneficial to stretch after your workout while your muscles are still warm.
A few important things to note about stretching:
Hold your stretching position for more than 60 seconds to increase flexibility. While holding your position for 20 seconds is enough for warm ups, holding each position for at least 60 seconds will develop the body's flexibility.
Do not bounce when you stretch. When stretching, hold that position for several seconds, and then slowly relax. Bouncing or forcing yourself into a position while stretching can strain or damage some joints or muscles.
Work slowly in increments instead of immediately jumping to doing the hardest stretch or position.
Make sure that you stretch or warm up all muscle groups. The neck is an often overlooked area, and yet very important.
Stretch regularly to continually increase your range of motion and your level of flexibility.
Do not overdo it. Listen to your body and increase your limits slowly.
In addition to injury prevention, improved flexibility and mobility, and the other physical benefits to stretching, many people also find that taking the time to stretch also relieves their stressed mind and spirit.
Here are 9 stretches to get you started:
Stand or sit up tall, relax your shoulders, and then gently bring your right ear to your right shoulder until you feel a moderate stretch. Take a deep breath and exhale as you roll your head forward bringing your chin to your chest; pause and hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat on the left side. Follow this up with a side rotation stretch; slowly turn your head to the left until you feel a stretch in the side of your neck and shoulder. Repeat on the right side.
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. You may want to hold onto a wall or the back of a chair for balance. Keep your back straight and take a deep breath, exhaling as you reach back and grab your right foot with your right hand. Keep your thighs lined up next to each other as you gently pull. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Stand tall and extend your right hand up. Take a deep breath, and as you exhale bend your right arm at the elbow, bringing your right palm towards the center of your back. Use your left hand to gently guide your elbow to the center and down. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Stand tall and gently raise your shoulders straight up and move them in circles going forward 6-8 times. Return to the start position then reveres the circles, moving your shoulders in circles going backwards 6-8 times.
Chest & Biceps
Stand tall and relax your shoulders, then interlace your fingers behind your back. Straighten your arms and take a deep breath as you lift your arms up behind into a gentle stretch. Remember to keep your shoulders down, your chest up, and your back straight while you hold for 20-30 seconds.
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Gently bend over while keeping your back straight and a slight bend in your knees. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Stand facing a wall a just over an arm’s length away. With your feet pointing directly forward, put one foot forward with a bent knee, while keeping the other leg straight. Use your arms to brace yourself against the wall, then keep your belly tight and lean forward and down until you feel the stretch in your calf muscle. Try to keep both feet flat. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.
Come to all fours with your hands and knees hip distance apart. Keep your core engaged as you gently curve your back, breathing deeply as you pull your belly button to your spine. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Glutes & Hips
Lie down on your back and bend your left knee up towards your chest. Take a deep breath, and as you exhale cross your left ankle at your right knee. Gently grab the back of your right thigh and pull your legs towards your chest. Hold for 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the other side.