Many people practice both cardio and strength training routines as part of their fitness plan, but fail to include exercises that would increase their flexibility. Not only does being more flexible benefit you in the gym by lessening your risk of an injury and increasing joint range of motion, it helps you in your daily life, such as allowing you to easily bend over and tie your shoes.
Stretching is one of the best ways to restore or increase flexibility. There are two types of stretching – static and dynamic. Your fitness routine will generally dictate when each type is performed. Generally speaking, static exercises are done after a workout as a cool down, where dynamic exercises are done after a warm-up but before a workout to get you loosened up. With either type of stretching, you don’t want to stretch cold muscles; this can lead to an injury.
In this type of stretching, a muscle is slowly stretched and then held in the stretched position for several seconds before relaxing. If done properly, there is a low risk of injury, making it one of the most popular forms of stretching.
A popular upper body muscle group to stretch is the shoulder. To perform the shoulder stretch seated or standing:
Hold your right arm parallel with the ground and across the front of your chest.
With your left arm grab your right arm just above the elbow and pull the stretched arm.
Pull until you just start to feel the stretch.
Hold for 30 seconds and then release.
Repeat with the other arm.
A great lower body stretch is the butterfly groin stretch. To start, sit on the floor with your back straight:
With the soles of your feet together, grasp your ankles and pull both of your feet towards your body; allow your knees to come up and out to the side.
While still grasping your ankles, gently push your knees down towards the floor.
You will feel the stretch along the inside of your thighs and groin.
Hold for 30 seconds.
Dynamic stretching is stretching while in motion. The muscles that will be used in the upcoming workout are stretched, but are not held in the stretched position as they would be with static stretching.
One great stretching exercise for the lower body is forward lunges. To start:
Keep your upper body straight, shoulders back and look straight forward.
Step forward with one leg, lowering your hips until both knees are bent at about a 90-degree angle. Ensure your front knee is centered over your ankle; your other knee should not touch the floor.
Push back with your front leg to the starting position.
Do 5 to 10 repetitions and then switch legs.
To increase the flexibility in your back, do some side bends:
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms straight in the air.
Without moving your lower body, alternate bending laterally to your left, back up and to the right as far as possible.
Do 5 to 20 repetitions in each direction.
Stretching should be part of your fitness routine. Not only does it complete your fitness plan, increased flexibility makes many everyday life tasks easier.