There’s one form of exercise training that sadly always gets forgotten – flexibility training. For some people, they assume that they’re not flexible and never will be, they don’t see this as an important trait to acquire, or they don’t know why it’s crucial for a healthy body. Activities and exercises that lengthen and stretch your muscles can help prevent injuries, back pain, and balance problems. When your muscles are well stretched, you have a better range of motion. It can make movements easier such as reaching or bending. It can help relieve tension and ease pain in the muscles as well. Flexibility gets especially important as you get older. It can help prevent a variety of different injuries. The tendons around your muscles stiffen when they’re not stretched properly. Having tight muscles give you a limited range of motion, and if you attempt to go past this, it can lead to injury. Flexibility can also help with healthy circulation and posture. ACSM recommends that adults do flexibility exercises two to three days a week, holding each stretch for 10-30 seconds, and repeating each one 2-4 times. It’s also important to note that you should always warm your muscles up before stretching by engaging in a light jog or other dynamic warm up exercises such as high knees or skipping. Here are some of my favorite stretches that help me stay flexible.
Simple toe touch
This is an easy way to introduce yourself to stretches. Start with feet about hip width apart, and breath in and reach hands up over head towards the ceiling. As you exhale, lower your hands down past your sides as you bend your torso at your hips, and hang upside down, reaching hands towards your feet. Keep your knees soft here (a light bend) and head handing down. This helps to stretch your back and hamstrings.
Another simple stretch is the quad stretch, and it has various forms. Stand with feet about hip width apart. Lift one foot off the ground, bending your knee so that you can grab your foot with your hand (on the same side). Pull your foot towards your butt, do your best to stand as up right as possible. Hold for 20-30 seconds then switch legs. Another variation of this stretch begins on the ground, rather than standing. Begin in a lunge position with the right knee forward. Slowly lower your left knee to the ground, and stabilize to find your balance. Slowly lift your left foot off the ground, while reaching back with your left hand to grab the left foot. Hold for 30 seconds and then slowly lower the left foot back to the ground. Switch sides.
It’s just as important to stretch your upper body as it is your lower body. In a sitting or standing position, lift one arm up over your head, and bend it so you reach towards your back in a diagonal position. With your opposite hand, gently pull your elbow slightly in the direction of your head for an extra stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, then relax and switch arms.
Written by GUADS staff Member Emily with contributions from www.heart.org