Did you know that flexibility and range of motion are key components in remaining injury free? For example, your ability to maintain your running stride, to elongate your favorite yoga pose, to go deeper into a lunge is often times dependent on how flexible you are as well as how loose (or tight) your major muscles groups tend to be. When attempting a squat, if your hip flexors are extremely tight, or your IT Bands are taught, you will be unable to fully engage your different muscles groups and the deepness of your squat will be limited while your threat of injury becomes heightened.
That being said, your range of motion can either help, or hinder, both your fitness journey AND every day comforts of life. Constant soreness, tight muscles, and decreased mobility in your hip flexors can lead to difficulties in lifting, running, playing with your kids, you name it. And who wants to constantly be in pain or feel like they can’t sit up for long because of a sore back? On the bright side, stretching daily can help keep your muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and the increased flexibility will help you to maintain a good range of motion in your joints. Without stretching, the muscles can shorten and constantly feel tight, causing them to become weaker and even possibly lose the ability to fully extend. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
Regular stretching keeps your muscles long, lean, and flexible. Who doesn’t want their body looking fit? The good news is: you can do something about it and you don’t have to buy any expensive pieces of equipment to do it! What you DO need, though, is dedication to the craft of stretching. You need to start incorporating it into your daily routine. First thing in the morning, do a few light stretches right when you get out of bed. Raise your hands up above your head and stretch them to the high heavens. Not only will it help activate your tired muscles but it should also give you a jolt of energy and everyone needs a little kick first thing in the morning. Now, like everything in life, ease yourself into a daily routine of stretching; aim for at least 2-3 times a week. From there, try to build it up to 3-4 times a week, and then, before you know it, you’ll have made it a habit and you’ll make sure to do it daily.
Now remember, there is no cumulative effect of stretching. Doing it today and then not again for a week will NOT make you magically more flexible. You have to devote some time to it, just like you would if you were learning a new language or trying your hand at a new sport. It will get easier with time. The first couple of sessions will be difficult and more likely than not you will want to give up. DON’T DO IT! Try to set aside a few minutes here, or a few minutes there, to get your stretch on. And if you go to the gym daily like I do, make sure you stretch a little BEFORE and definitely AFTER your workout. Your body will thank you.
A few stretches to try and incorporate are:
Hamstring stretch: sit on the floor (or stand with legs spread wide) with your legs out straight in front of you. Flex your toes and try to reach for them. Try to keep your back straight while leaning forward. Do not curve your back to touch your toes. If you can’t reach them, simply lay them on the top of your thighs, or knees, or wherever they may fall. Hold for 20-30 seconds and do not bounce.
Quad stretch: while standing, (picture shows modified version on the ground) kick back one foot so that it touches your butt. Grab the front of your foot (or the ankle) with the same hand (or opposite hand) and hold against your backside. If you need help balancing, hold onto something with your free hand. Hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch legs.
Calf stretch: while standing, (and eating if you’d like!) find something you can push against that will not move. With one leg straight, bend the other leg while it allows your calf to slightly pop up (or push further into the ground) and stretch. Hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch legs.
Groin stretch (butterfly): while sitting on the floor bring in both legs (almost Indian style) so that the soles of your feet touch each other. The closer you can get them to your body, the deeper the stretch. With your elbows, gently press into the area near the knee to help push them down towards the ground. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Shoulder stretch: while standing (or sitting), bring one arm across your body and use the other arm to press against the backside of your forearm to help push the opposite arm against your body. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
So, go out and conquer your stretching game then let me know how it goes and if you have any questions. Here’s to a life of increased flexibility!