Remember gym class? Stretching was once standard practice before any exercise. While studies may not have proven the value of stretching prior to a workout, stretching after a workout is still considered a good practice. What’s more, stretching regularly – whether it’s after a workout or anytime during the week – helps maintain flexibility and even improve flexibility if done frequently enough. “Use it or lose it” certainly applies when it comes to flexibility, and maintaining flexibility not only makes it easier to perform certain exercises, it makes everyday life – from tying a shoe to gardening or cleaning the house – more effortless and more comfortable.
Stretching can increase blood flow to the muscles and help work out knots and stiffness. Best of all, it’s relaxing and feels good!
Tips for Successful Stretching
- Vary the stretches you do. Both dynamic (moving) and static stretching can be beneficial. Some people use a foam roller as part of their stretching routine.
- Stretch all the major muscle groups
- Hold each stretch for 10 to 60 seconds.
- Always remember to breathe while you stretch.
- You should feel the stretch – think gentle tension – but it should never be painful. If it hurts, back off or try a different stretch.
- Try to stretch two to three times a week.
- You can stretch after a workout or anytime. Stretching a bit here and there is perfectly fine – it doesn’t have to be done all at once. You can even stretch while you watch TV! Or, turn on some relaxing music to help turn your stretching routine into a stress reducing relaxation session. If you work at a desk, getting up to walk around and perform some simple stretches can help relieve tension and increase blood flow to your muscles.
- Yoga is also a great way to stretch and improve flexibility.
- As with any form of exercise, make sure your doctor has cleared you for the type of workout or stretching routine you plan to try.
Stretches to Try
There are hundreds of various stretches. Following the guidelines above, try different stretches to find out what feels best for you and what you enjoy doing – because if it doesn’t feel right and you don’t enjoy it, chances are you won’t stick with it!
The web is full of helpful articles and videos that walk you through specific stretches for the various muscle groups. Here are a few to get you started:
- The Only 5 Stretches You Need – Shape.com
- Stretch the Stress Out – WholeLiving.com
- Stretch for a Longer, Leaner Body – Prevention.com
- Stretching Exercises for Seniors – ElderGym.com
Signing up for a stretching class is another way to gain a solid foundation and learn stretches you can do on your own, long after the class is over.
Incorporating stretching into your weekly routine will help you maintain and improve flexibility, as well as decrease tension and stiffness – benefits well worth the time investment!