Stretching exercises are an important part of your workout routine, as they help to increase your overall flexibility giving you a greater range of motion, and reducing the chances of picking up an injury. A well thought out set of stretches can complement the exercises that you do, and ensure that you get more benefits from the gym session. It also helps to shape the body, with muscles encouraged into a longer shape.
Many people start their workouts with a range of stretching exercises to warm up – this is a big mistake. Actually, you want to be warmed up when you do your stretches. Being warmed up reduces the injury risk, and means that your muscles can work to their full range, rather than being required to over work before they are ready. A gentle 5 minute run is a good idea to warm up for a stretching session, and will get your muscles ready.
There are two main types of stretching exercises, static and dynamic. We’re all familiar with static stretches. These are the ones where you bend over and touch your toes, move slowly, and hold the maximum extent of the stretch. Dynamic stretches involve quicker movement out of the stretched pose, so rather than holding that deep lunge for 10 seconds, you move to your maximum stretch, and then return from it. You still want to move in a relatively controlled way to avoid injury, but there is no holding of position at the end. Static stretches will improve your overall flexibility, but in order to get real life benefits for sport or other training, you need to include dynamic stretching exercises too, as these will improve your range of mobility while you are actually moving. Both types of stretching complement each other.
The most important rule of stretching exercises is: If it hurts, stop.
When you stretch, you want to feel the stretch so that you know you are increasing your reach, but it should never be physically painful. If it is, you’re going too far, and you need to relax, and work back up to the range that you are trying to achieve.
There are some great and challenging stretching exercise routines available if you join vytalz (which is free!), but here are 5 stretches that you should try:
Place one foot well in front of the other, and lean forwards bending your front leg and keeping your body upright to feel the stretch through your calves. To balance your work on both sides, try striding forwards between stretches.
We covered this in our full blog post about the toddler squat, but its a great exercise that will increase flexibility in your lower legs as well as improving your strength and balance.
Lower Back Stretch
Lie on your front, and press your body flat to the floor, then place your hands about level with your waist, and lift your shoulders up while aiming to get a consistent curve into your back. This will improve your range of movement as well as being a very relaxing pose.
With your feet more than shoulder width apart, transfer your weight from one leg to the other, keeping the non-weight bearing leg straight, and bending the other at the knee. This stretch widens your stance at the groin, and helps you to get more flexibility and strength into this muscle group. The advantage of this is that it reduces your likelihood of injury when running or doing other activity.
This stretching exercise is one that you need to practice, and also need a mirror to do, because you’re putting a big twist into your back, and it can be a little bit painful if you get it wrong. Start by sitting flat on the ground. Raise your left leg, and lie the other flat underneath it. Then twist your torso to the left, aiming to get to a right angle with your lower body. Support the twist with your right arm on the outside of your left leg, and continue to turn your head as far as possible. Don’t force the stretch, build up to a good range of movement over time.