Stretching is traditionally one of the most highly recommended components of any exercise regime or physical activity. It can also be beneficial to practice stretching on its own so I encourage you to incorporate a stretching program into your daily lifestyle.
Your body has over 600 muscles and throughout the day these muscles can become overused and fatigued. This causes the muscles in our body to shorten, which increases our risk of injury especially as we mature. Stretching helps to restore normal length to otherwise shortened muscles. Some of the benefits from a lifestyle of regular stretching include increased flexibility, improved blood circulation, more energy and enhanced coordination.
Here are my top 10 regular stretches.
1. Neck stretch
Sitting on your right hand, gently bend your head forward, down and into your left armpit. With your left hand on the back of your head, apply gentle downward pressure to accentuate the stretch. Repeat to the other side.
2. Upper back stretch
Lying on the floor put a rolled up towel or foam exercise roller underneath your shoulder blades. With the rest of your body relaxed, gently clasp both hands with straight elbows, and lift them together over your head to touch the floor. Hold for 30 seconds in this outreached position and feel the extension through the upper back.
3. Up-stretched arms
Stand up straight and keep your feet together. Raise your arms above your head. Interlock your fingers and push your palms, facing up, to the ceiling. Inhale as you rise up on your toes and stretch upward. Hold for six seconds and then exhale as you lower your feet to the floor.
4. Supine spinal twist
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your knees together, rotate them to one side toward the floor while turning your head in the opposite direction. Hold for 15 seconds and then slowly reverse and repeat in other direction.
5. Hip rotator stretch
Lie on your back and point your legs to the ceiling. Cross your left leg over your right knee. Reach through your legs and pull your straight leg toward you while pushing with your elbow against your bent knee.
6. Cat stretch
Kneel on the floor in front of a physio ball (or a chair or low table). Stretch your arms out in front of you and lay them on the ball. Slowly lower your upper back and shoulders downward toward the floor, while rotating your wrists so that your thumbs point up.
7. Lunge stretch
Kneel on the floor in a lunge position, putting both hands on your hips. Slowly pull your hips forward, keeping them square – you should feel a deep pull in the front part of your back leg, and in your lower stomach. Hold for 30 seconds, breathe deeply, and then relax. Switch sides and repeat.
8. Seated side bend
Sit on a pillow in cross-legged position. Place your left hand on floor to side of your hip, with your left elbow slightly bent. Extend your right arm up by your ear. Lean to your left, keeping your bottom on the floor and your shoulders down. Hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch sides.
9. Rag doll stretch
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Place your right hand on your left elbow and your left hand on your right elbow. Bend over from the hips, letting your arms and head hang down – hold for 20-30 seconds and gently roll back up.
Lie face up with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor and your arms extended by your sides. Keeping your shoulders down, engage your abs and press your heels into the ground to lift your hips and back to form a diagonal line from your shoulders to knees. Hold for 20 seconds and lower yourself gently.
Repeat each of these stretches a minimum of three times per session on each side, two to three times per week for the best results.
Developing sensible routines around stretching will not only positively affect muscle tissue, it will also improve the function of ligaments, tendons, natural sheaths and other connective tissue.
For further advice or to receive a personally tailored stretching program, visit a physiotherapist at your local Back In Motion practice.
What stretches do you do? How often? Do you have any tips you can share for other readers?