5 Stretches Your Body Really Needs
By Lindsey House, RD LD Certified Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise
By now you get it—exercise is important, but taking care of your body is important too. If you run, bike, or walk, your muscles could use some extra length. Staying flexible is an essential part of staying fit.
It not only feels good to stretch your body, which often gets tight when you exercise, but flexibility is also vital for the health of your back, hips and knees. To avoid injury, it’s best to stretch regularly, especially if you’re very active. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Stretching is not meant to be a warm-up. It is important not to stretch your muscles when they are cold. Instead consider a light walk for five minutes prior to stretching.
- Do not bounce. Bouncing while stretching can cause injury and more damage than good. Your movement should be smooth and controlled.
- Hold your stretch… rest… and come back to your stretch. You should be aiming for 30-60 seconds for each stretch and remember to breath normally (do not hold your breath).
- Avoid pain. When performing your stretches, you should aim for tension, but not pain. If you are experiencing pain, you may have pushed too far and this is not beneficial.
- Create a schedule for your stretching. It is important to remain consistent with your stretching to achieve the most benefits for your body. When you stop stretching, your muscles and joints can become over-stressed and can result in future injury and body discomfort.
The most effective way to combat this problem is to focus on your 5 major muscle groups:
- Calves- Stand facing a wall or sturdy object with one foot forward and one foot behind. Point both feet toward the wall. Lean forward with your hands on the wall until you feel a moderate stretch in the calf on the back leg. Hold 30-60 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
- Thighs- Stand and hold onto a sturdy object for balance. Bend the knee that is away from the wall, grab your foot with your free hand, and pull your foot toward your buttocks. Keeping your back straight, your thighs even with each other, and your knee pointed down, pull until you feel a moderate stretch on the front of your thigh. Hold 30-60 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
- Hips- Lie on your back. Lift your knee toward your chest and rest your ankle on the outside of your other thigh. Use your hands to pull your knee toward the opposite shoulder until you feel a moderate stretch in your buttocks. Hold 30-60 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
- Lower Back- Sit in a chair. Reach your arms over your head as high as you can. Try to lengthen your trunk. Hold 30-60 seconds.
- Neck & Shoulders- Sit upright. Tilt your head to the side, moving your ear toward your shoulder. Tilt your head until you feel a moderate stretch on the other side of your neck. Hold 30-60 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Remember, to reap the benefits of stretching, you have to do it the right way. Stretching is only beneficial if we learn how to do it safely. It’s easy to forget to stretch. It’s often overlooked because the results are not as obvious as when you exercise. Stretching can lead to better posture and fewer aches and pains.