Stretching has become a contentious issue in recent years. Though it was once considered an essential pre-workout and post-workout activity, studies are now finding that it does not reduce the risk of injury, nor does it enhance performance. In fact, it can be detrimental in some cases because it temporarily reduces the explosiveness of some muscles.
However, that doesn’t mean that stretching is a waste of time.
After a period of prolonged muscular contraction, from either aerobic exercise or strength training, muscles can take up to two hours to be restored to their resting length – but just a few minutes of stretching will enable this to happen much more quickly. It also speeds up the removal of waste products and the arrival of fresh nutrients to the recovering muscles.
In a way, post-workout stretching helps to undo the changes that you have instigated as a result of your workout. This kind of general stretching is not the same as remedial stretching, in which the idea is to actually lengthen the muscle to enable a bone to sit more properly in its place.
The Right Way to Stretch
- The stretches that follow cover all of the major muscle groups of the body and are ideal when done post workout or to maintain your general flexibility an suppleness.
- If you are short on time, concentrate on the muscle groups you have worked in your workout session (For example, swimmers would want to concentrate on the back and shoulders while runners would stretch all of the lower body muscles).
- Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, and ideally perform each stretch twice.
- If an exercise needs to be done with each limb separately, the instructions given are only for one side – but don’t forget to stretch the other side too. The exercises are presented in the order that progresses from standing to sitting or lying – but, if you prefer you can work from head to toe.
We’ve put together this essential guide to stretching which you might be interested in adding to your weekly routine for better fitness results.
Basic Stretching Exercises
Back of Thigh (Hamstrings)
(1) Position yourself in front of a support that is standing at about the height of your waist. lace your extended right leg on the support, keeping the foot relaxed. Your leg should bow be at a right angle to the floor.
(2) Initiating from the hips, lean slightly forward with your torso. Be sure to keep the extended knee locked. You will feel the stretch through your hamstrings. You don’t need to pull your toes back towards you – the only way in which this intensifies the stretch is that it adds the sciatic nerve to the equation. Switch sides.
Front of Thigh (Quadriceps)
(1) Stand with your feet at shoulder width. raise your left leg, bending at the knee and grabbing your foot with your left hand. Maintain a neutral spine. Pull back slightly on your foot to feel a stretch through the thigh. Repeat on the other side.
Side Stretch (Obliques, Quadratus Lumborum)
(1) Stand with your feet hip distance apart with your arms by your sides. Allow your right hand to travel down the right leg as you allow the entire torso to drop to the right, feeling a stretch along the left side.
(2) Pause, then return to the start position and sink down to the left side.
To increase the stretch, perform it with your hands linked above your head.
Upper and Lower Calves & Feet (Gastrocnemius, Soleus and Achilles Tendon)
(1) Standing, face a support, with your feet a stride length apart, the back leg straight and front leg bent.
(2) Press the back heel into the floor so that you experience a stretch in the middle of the calf muscle. Turn the toes slightly inwards to focus on the outer side of the calf.
(3) Bring the back leg in a little, bend the knee and flex the hips, so that the stretch moves down to the lower part of the calf and the Achilles tendon.
(4) With both legs still bent, place the toes of the back foot up against the heel of the front foot to stretch the muscles of the foot.
Chest (Pectoralis Major)
(1) Standing with your feet hip distance apart, link your hands between you and push them away from your thighs, feeling a stretch along the front of the chest.
Upper Back (Latissimus Dorsi, Rhomboids, Trapezius)
(1) Hold your hands together behind you back. Push your arms away, focusing on the stretch between your lats, deltoids and arms. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
Back of Upper Arm (Triceps)
(1) Lift your right arm above your head, and bend at the elbow to bring your hand down behind your head.
(2) Grab the right elbow with the left hand and apply slight pressure until you feel the stretch through the triceps muscle at the back of the upper arm. Repeat with the other arm.
Back of lower Arm and Wrist (Flexor Carpi Radialis, Ulnaris and Palmaris Longus)
(1) Extend your right arm, palm facing up, and use your left to bend the hand back to 90 degrees. Straighten the elbow and hold. Swap sides.
(1) Move your right arm across your torso at chest level. Grab the left arms with the right hand and pull the arm in toward the body. Keep the spine neutral. Repeat n the other side.
(1) Stand with your feet at shoulder width and your hands by your sides. Moving your head to the left, maintain an erect position and hold for 10-15 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Hip Flexors (Iliopsoas)
(1) From a lunge position, with the right foot forward, take your left knee to the floor with the lower leg extended behind it, and the toes facing down. Tighten the tummy muscle and extend forwards from the hips, until your left knee is 90 degrees. Yo9u should feel a stretch along the front of the hip joint and the thigh.
Lower Back (Erector Spinae)
(1) Begin on all fours, hands under your shoulders, knees under hips, and you head in line with your spine.
(2) Extend the spine by arching the back gently, opening the chest, lifting the head and tilting the hip bones backwards.
(3) pause, then go back through the start position into a rounded position, dropping the head, opening the back of the shoulders nd tucking the hips under. Gently pull up the tummy.
Shins (Tibialis Anterior)
(1) Kneel on a mat with a rolled up towel under your feet. Gently lower your right onto your haunches and feel a stretch along the front of the shins and ankles.
To increase the stretch, place both hands on the floor and lift each thigh alternately.
Inner Thighs (Adductors)
(1) Sit on the floor with the knees drawn into the chest and the feet flat on the floor.
(2) Drop the knees open to the sides and use your elbows gently to press the thighs open. Don’t round the back, but just sit up tall.
(3) Hold, then straighten the legs out to the sides and hinge the forward from the hips.
Bottom / Outer Thighs (Gluteals, Abductors)
(1) Sit on the floor with your legs outstretched.
(2) bend your right knee up, placing the foot on the floor close to the back of the thigh. Wrap your left arm around the bent leg and gently turn the torso to the right until you feel a stretch along the outer right thigh. Swap legs.
Bottom / Hip Rotators (Gluteals, Piriformis)
(1) Lie on your back and bring the left knee to a right angle from your chest, your left hand supporting the thigh and your right hand holding on to the shin. Keeping the thigh stable, bring the lower leg towards you, until you feel stretch deep in the hip. Swap sides.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
(1) Try this yoga posture after your cool-down to help restore the body to normal. Lie on the floor with legs extended and arms at a 45-degree angle from your sides, palms facing upwards. Allow the shoulders to sink into the floor, the shoulder blades to slide down the back and the collarbones to push out to the sides. let the fingers curl and the feet drop open. Relax the neck, face and jaw. Keep your eyes closed and focus on your breathing for five to seven minutes.
If your workouts are leaving you feeling sore and stiff, rather than taking a few days off you might consider adding something new to your training regime; yoga. Research is showing that yoga can offer considerable benefits to spot and exercise performance – greater staying power, flexibility and strength, quicker recovery less injury and better balance. A study published in the Alternative Therapies in Heath and Medicine found that yogic breathing increased lung capacity and function.
While sport and exercise activities do wonders for your cardio system, they are not designed to create perfect balance and harmony in the body. In fact, some sports such as golf and tennis cause imbalance because they favor one side of the body, while others, such as running and cycling, are highly repetitive and linear. This results in short tight quads and hip flexors for cyclists and stiff hamstrings, calves and lower backs for runners.
Yoga works on the whole body and includes forward and backward bending, twists, a balances and inversions. In fact, the benefits of yoga go beyond becoming more bendy and agile – according to the research, yoga can also home mental focus.
We encourage you to explore yoga for yourself. Be gentle and patient with yourself and you may just find yourself making leaps and bounds of progress in your other activities.