Stretching before any exercising or fitness routine is vital. In fact, stretching is so vital that it should be incorporated as a way of life, every day, whether you are set to exercise or not. Stretching helps keep our muscles healthy, strong and flexible. Stretching further helps maintain flexibility and range of motion within our joints. Without stretching, our muscles can become weak, and the range of motion within our joints can dangerously decrease, leaving us not only feeling stiff and unable to extend all of the way but also susceptible to injuries like muscle tears, strains, and weakened muscles. These can further lead to joint injuries from the inability to support the joints. Stretching daily can also improve circulation within the body and can also help relieve stress.
According to Harvardhealth.com, “The importance of Stretching,” they write about the cumulative effect of stretching; stretching once today won’t magically give you perfect, instant flexibility. You’ll need to do it over time and remain committed to a routine. “It may have taken you many months to get tight muscles, so you’re not going to be perfectly flexible after one or two sessions,” says physical therapist David Nolan of Massachusetts General Hospital. “It takes weeks to months to get flexible and you’ll have to continue working on it to maintain it.” (1.) Consider a dancer or a gymnast; they weren’t born automatically to be able to do the splits. Every day before dance class or a gymnastics training session, participants must stretch for a lengthy period of time. After an extended amount of time, maybe over months and for some people, maybe even a year, one may actually be able to perfectly execute the proper split. Stretching for flexibility takes time, commitment and diligence depending on the level of flexibility you are wanting to achieve. Regardless, even if you are just wanting to stay healthy and flexible and reduce your risk for injury, stretching should be done daily.
Further according to the article posted on harvardhealth.com, when it comes to proper execution, they write: “We used to believe that stretching was necessary to warm up the muscles and prepare them for activity. However, mounting research has shown that stretching the muscles before they’re warmed up can actually hurt them.” They further state, “When everything is cold, the fibers aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area, and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change,” says Nolan. “All it takes to warm up the muscles before stretching is five to 10 minutes of light activity, such as a quick walk. You can also stretch after an aerobic or weight-training workout. Hold a stretch for 30 seconds. Don’t bounce, which can cause injury. You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle, and talk to your doctor.”
The 5 Best Stretching Exercises
Of course there are several different stretches one can perform to maintain a fine level of flexibility and muscle health. Depending on your target areas and goals, you may need to incorporate other additional stretches to your routine for optimum results. Take a look at five of the most popular and well recognized stretches, for their benefits and easy to perform mechanisms.
The Downward Dog
According to an article posted on shape.com, “The Only 5 Stretches You Need,” the downward dog is listed at number one as the benefits include: “improves flexibility in calves, hamstrings, and shoulders. It relieves pain in the lower back and elongates the cervical spine, which relieves tension in the body and head.” How exactly do you accomplish the “downward dog” exercise? “Come onto your hands and knees with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your shoulders, and knees directly below your hips. Spread your fingers wide and tuck your toes under. Inhale and lift your knees off the floor, pressing your hips up toward the ceiling. Draw your heels down to the floor or keep a slight bend in your knees. Press your hands firmly into the mat and draw your shoulder blades down. Keep the head between the arms (don’t let it hang). Take deep breaths the entire time.” (2.)
Shape.com tells us that the benefits from this stretch include: “Improves flexibility in hips and quadriceps and releases the psoas, which is part of a group of muscles called the hip flexors. Tightness of the psoas can result in lower back pain by compressing the lumbar discs.” To properly execute this stretch, they write: “Come onto both knees and step your right foot forward. Make sure to keep your right knee over your heel and your left knee directly under your hip. Reach your left hand up toward the ceiling. Make sure to keep both hips facing forward and glutes engaged. Take deep breaths the entire time.” (2.)
Lying Piriformis Stretch
The benefits from this stretch, according to shape.com, include: “Improves flexibility in hips and glutes. Helps keep hip and knee joints properly aligned during activity and helps prevent sudden twisting, and allows for easy external rotation of the hips.” Executing this stretch is not difficult in the least; the site tells us we must “Lie on your back, bend both knees, and bring your left ankle over your right thigh. Lift your right foot off the ground, bringing your leg up to a 90-degree angle. Loop your hands in between your legs and slowly draw your right knee in toward your chest. Keep your head and neck relaxed on the ground. Take deep breaths the entire time.” (2)
Lying Spinal Twist
Listed as number four, on their list of “the only five stretches you will ever need, is the “lying spinal twist.” The benefits of this stretch include: “Lengthens and realigns the spine, increases flexibility in the hips and low back, and stimulates the digestive system.” When it comes to “how to do it,” shape.com tells us to: “Lie on your back and bring both knees in toward your chest. Bring your hands out to your sides and draw your knees up and over to your left side. Keeping your shoulder blades on the ground, rest your knees on top of one another. Take deep breaths the entire time. When changing sides (after holding for 30 seconds), make sure to use your core muscles to bring your legs back to center.” (2.)
Posterior Capsular Stretch
Lastly, the posterior capsular stretch is the final stretch we should need to stay mobile and flexible. According to the site, the benefits of the posterior capsular stretch include: “Reduces the risk of shoulder injury by improving flexibility in the rotator cuff and posterior capsule and improves range of motion in the shoulder (improvement in sports with a throwing or swinging motion).” Another fairly easy stretch, to execute this stretch, shape.com tells us to “Lie on your right side with knees bent. Bring your right arm to a 90-degree position out from your body. Use your top arm to slowly draw your right hand toward the floor. Make sure to apply a small amount of pressure to the arm, do not force range of motion. It’s common to roll backward onto the shoulder blade, so make sure you stay directly on the shoulder. Take deep breaths the entire time. Repeat on the other side” (2.).