If you’re short of time to exercise, then you might think doing a stretching routine isn’t the best use of your time. Stretching isn’t likely to make any difference to a weight loss program, or improve heart health. So how important is it?
Why we should stretch
It’s not good to have tight muscles. This is because they will restrict movement and make injury more likely. In order to maintain flexibility, muscles need to be stretched to their full length regularly. For most people, this isn’t something that happens in normal everyday activity. In fact, many people have jobs in which they don’t move much at all, or use the same muscles in repetitive movements. Having a regular stretching routine will therefore help to stop muscles getting tight and problems developing.
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Benefits of a regular stretching routine
- Regularly stretching muscles increases the range of movement around the joints. This means that muscle injury is less likely and movements are smoother and easier.
- Stretching reduces tension in muscles
- Increased range of movement around the joints can improve sports and exercise performance
- Being flexible allows us to bend, reach and turn easily
- Tight muscles lead to posture problems – bad posture affects the way you look and can lead to pain and injury
When to stretch
At one time most fitness programs included a “warm-up” stretch. The thinking was that muscles should be taken to their full length to prepare them for exercise, but research seems to show that this isn’t necessary. There is also an argument that stretching after exercise helps to prevent soreness, but research hasn’t supported this either. However, what we do know is that muscles should be warm before we stretch them, to avoid injury. So, it makes sense to stretch at the end of an exercise session, when our muscles are warm.
This post gives you a stretching routine for the muscles of the legs, chest and back. These are the areas where tightness is most common. Do the stretches when you are warm from exercise, walking, or household chores. Alternatively, see this post for some warm-up exercises.
Stretching routine to prevent tight muslces.
Doing these stretches on a hard floor won’t be comfortable, so you should use a mat or some other form of cushioning like a folded blanket. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.
The calf muscles are the bulky muscles at the back of the lower leg. We use them in walking and running, to push the heel off the ground. They can get tight in shoes with heels, so this stretch is especially good if you wear heels a lot.
- Stand with feet about hip distance, one foot forward
- Feet should be pointing forwards, don’t twist your back foot or you won’t get the stretch properly
- You should feel the stretch in your back calf – take your leg as far back as you need to in order to feel this
Hip flexor stretch
The hip flexors connect the hip to the thigh bone. Tight hip flexors pull the pelvis forward, which puts a strain on the low back. It’s also pretty much impossible to have flat abs with a forward tilting pelvis.
Instructions to stretch the right hip flexor:
- Go down on your right knee and put your left foot on the floor in front
- Bring your trunk and left foot further forward, so that you feel the stretch at the top front of your right leg
- Keep your upper body upright and try to focus on pushing your pelvis forwards to feel the stretch
The hamstrings are the long muscles at the back of the leg. Hamstrings often get tight because of long periods spent sitting and poor posture.
- Lay on floor with one knee bent and the other leg straight
- Hold the straight leg either above or below the knee – avoid pulling on the knee
- Gently ease the leg towards you
- If you can’t get the leg close enough to hold on to, then use a band or scarf around your foot:
The glutes are the butt muscles. They extend the leg behind the body and play a part in keeping the pelvis in correct alignment. Tightness in the glutes is less common than tightness in the other muscles mentioned above, but can still be a problem.
- Lay on floor with one knee bent
- Put the other foot on the knee of the bent leg
- Put both hands on the underneath leg and lift it towards you
Rounded shoulders is a common upper body posture problem, which is often developed by sitting at a desk for long periods of time. When this happens, the chest muscles become tight, making it difficult to correct the posture problem. Stretching out the chest muscles helps to pull the shoulders back into place.
- Stand with your feet hip distance apart and your shoulders relaxed down away from your ears
- Try to focus on pulling your shoulder blades downwards
- Now hold your hands together behind your back and push your chest forwards
The mechanics of the back and pelvis is complicated and there are many problems that can arise from tight muscles in the back. This exercise stretches the spinal extensor muscles. Tightness here is common and usually accompanies a forward pelvic tilt.
Start the stretch by getting into an all-4s kneeling position, with your back flat:
Now engage your abdominal muscles and round your back, so that you feel the stretch along your spine:
Download a PDF chart of the leg stretches here:
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Other posts to help you stay flexible and improve your posture: