Most of us have been taught to stretch before we exercise ever since our days playing dodgeball in P.E. class. Although there’s still debate over whether stretching before exercise can actually prevent an injury, there is no doubt that stretching is beneficial to your physical health. It increases circulation by encouraging blood flow and supplying nutrients to muscles and cartilage, and has been shown to reduce stress by easing tense muscles and even alleviating lower back pain.
Of course, the most common benefits of stretching are increased flexibility and range of motion. As we age, our muscles become tighter and shorter. Stretching is a good defense against this aging side effect, both in general and in conjunction with daily exercise.
With that in mind, here are some stretching tips to keep you in tip-top shape:
Stretch 10 minutes a day. Stretching doesn’t always have to be pre-workout. The best time to stretch is often right after you get out of bed—it’ll shake off nighttime soreness and tension as well as increase strength and flexibility.
Know your body. If your body has been plagued by injury, either from overuse or trauma, you need to adapt how you stretch. The affected muscle, joint or appendage should be stretched with care, as overstretching can reinjure it. Consult with your doctor or health professional to find out more.
Warm up before you stretch. Many people count their stretching as their warm up, when in fact stretching and warming up are separate activities. 10 minutes of gentle exercise like walking or jogging in place can warm up those muscles and reduce the chance of injury during exercise
Hold for 10-30 seconds. If you’re going to stretch, really stretch—hold your poses for at least 10 seconds. But make sure you’re not overstretching for the aforementioned reasons.
Avoid discomfort. Only push yourself as far as you are comfortable. There’s no need to impress everyone else at the gym. Your flexibility will increase as you get into the habit of stretching.
Breathe. It may sound like a no-brainer, but it might be your instinct to hold your breath when you stretch. Make a conscious effort to breathe normally as you hold your stretch.
Mix it up. Let’s face it: stretching is one of the least exciting things you’ll do all day. Help keep it interesting by adding new stretches into the mix and finding different ways to stretch the same muscle.
Now that you have some tips, here are some basic yet effective stretches to get you ready for any daily exercise:
- The Runner’s Stretch
- The Standing Side Stretch
- The Forward Hang
- The Low Lunge Arch
- The Seated Back Twist
- The Bound Angle