Exercise is good for you. More people are going to the gym to improve their physical health. But stretching is an important aspect of exercising that’s often forgotten.
It’s not always as satisfying as other forms of exercise. It’s not sweaty, it’s not PBs and stretching can feel uncomfortable. This is especially true if you have tight muscles, poor posture or live a sedentary life.
This blog is written by Personal Trainer Reece Dowling. It discusses why stretching is important, when and how often you should stretch, as well as the best beginner stretching exercises.
What are the benefits of stretching?
Although you don’t need to spend hours a week stretching, there are many benefits to including stretches in your training program.
- Enhances flexibility and mobility: For beginners, stretching is essentially a flexibility exercise. Stretches can help reduce muscle stiffness and increase flexibility. Flexibility is a key component of joint health. It allows the joints to move more freely. Our natural range of motion declines with age; stretching can slow this down.
- Lowers injury risk: Flexible muscles are more susceptible to strains and injuries than tight muscles. This can also have an impact on the tendon. If the muscle is unable or unwilling to stretch, it may cause the tendon to overexert. Regular stretching can reduce stiffness and make them less susceptible to injury. Dynamic stretches (which we’ll discuss shortly) to warm-up before a workout will help to reduce the chance of injury.
- Relaxes tight, stiff muscles: It’s unlikely that you’ll spend much time sitting down, unless you work in a manual occupation. The muscles are designed to move so that they can be more mobile. This is not only uncomfortable but also reduces our ability to move. Tight hamstrings can result from sitting for too long, and can affect everything, from our walking to our squats in the gym.
- Improves posture: Tight muscles not only affect how we move but also affect our posture by pulling the body in different positions. It’s a vicious circle! Sitting for prolonged periods can cause muscle and posture problems. Regular stretching can help to alleviate this.
- Recovery: Exercise can cause microtears in our muscles. Although the repair of these tears is what allows for muscle growth, it can also cause delayed-onset muscle soreness – which can be very bothersome! Stretching after a workout can help to replenish oxygen and nutrients in the muscles. This helps to prevent muscle tightening due to microtears. A balanced diet, plenty of water, and good sleep can all help to prevent soreness.
- Enhances performance: Mobile joints and flexible muscles can make a big difference in how we perform at the gym or when playing a sport. If mobility is restricted and you are unable to move fully, it can make it difficult to do the right form or function properly. Speed and power can also suffer. Stretching can improve your mobility and performance.
WHAT ARE DIFFERENT TYPES of STRETCHING?
There are two types of stretching: static and dynamic. Both static and dynamic stretches offer benefits. However, there are times when they shouldn’t be used.
- Dynamic stretching: Dynamic stretching is active movement of our joints and muscles through their full range. Dynamic stretching can be used to warm up muscles and joints prior to a workout or throughout the day in order to increase blood flow and reduce stiffness.
- Static stretching
Static stretching is when you place yourself in a position that stretches a particular muscle. You hold this position for around 20 to 45 seconds. These stretches can be uncomfortable because they stretch stiff muscles. However, they should not be painful. Static stretching can help lengthen muscles over time. However, static stretches should be performed after a workout to ensure that your muscles are warm and flexible. Cold muscles can cause tears and strains.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD IT BE STRETCHED?
More is better when it comes to stretching. To prevent stiffness and promote recovery, we recommend at least 10-15 minutes of dynamic stretching prior to a workout. You should aim to stretch your back, hamstrings and glutes if you have a job that requires you to sit all day.
If you want to maximize the benefits of stretches, it is a good idea to add more stretches to your weekly routine. For beginners, a good routine might include 15 minutes of dynamic stretching followed by 15 minutes static stretching 2-3x per week. This can be done before and after any workouts.
You will need to spend a lot of effort and time stretching your muscles if your goal is to become very flexible. These types of stretches are hard to master and require a lot of effort. There is no easy way to do split stretches. You can start by focusing on stretching your muscles and correcting your posture. From there, you will be able build more flexibility.
The Best Dynamic Stretching Exercises for Beginners
These can be done before or during a workout to reduce stiffness.
- Leg Swings
- Balance on one foot, hold onto a wall if necessary.
- To warm your hamstrings, bring your other leg back as far you can. Swing your leg forward and back repeatedly.
- Gradually increase your ability to swing your leg. You should be able to swing your leg at a level you are comfortable with.
- Complete 5-10 swings per leg.
- Arm Circles
- Start in a standing position, with your arms at your sides.
- Begin by slowly moving your arms forward. As you get more comfortable, increase the range of motion.
- Your body should be still and upright all the time.
- Before changing direction, complete 15 circles.
- Lunge with Overhead Reach
- Start by standing straight up with one leg, and then move to the side.
- Slowly lower your hips and reach your arms above your head.
- To stand up, lift your front leg and extend your arms out to the side.
- Do this 10 times per leg before switching sides.
- Standing straight up, place your hands on the ground and keep your legs straight. If this seems too difficult for you, bend your knee slightly.
- Slowly move your hands forward, bringing your body into a push-up position.
- Move your hands towards your feet, then stand up. Do this one time.
- Do 10 repetitions.
- The Greatest Stretch
- Push up your right foot towards your right hand. If you need to bend your left knee slightly, you can either place it on the ground or bend it slightly.
- When your right foot is flat on a floor, raise your right hand towards the ceiling.
The Best Stattic Stretching Exercises
These should be done only after a workout or if your muscles are well warmed up.
- Child’s PoseThis yoga pose is great for those who sit for long periods. It helps stretch the hips, upper back, and lower back. Although some stretches may feel uncomfortable, this stretch is great for relieving stiff muscles pain.
- Begin by bending your knees and putting your toes on the floor.
- Keep your hips back and lower your stomach between your legs. Then, place your forehead on the mat.
- Slowly extend your arms as far as possible while keeping your hips back.
- After you reach your goal, hold the position for 20-30 seconds.
- Standing Tricep Stretch
- Standing with your feet shoulder width apart, raise your left arm and bend your elbow to your right shoulder blade.
- Your right hand should gently push your left elbow towards the stretch until you feel the stretch running down your triceps, and into your lats.
- You should hold the stretch for between 20-30 seconds. Then, switch sides.
- For 2 sets, repeat each side.
- Standing Calf Stretch
- Place your left foot in front of a wall. Now, stand with your right foot facing the wall. Place your hands on the wall.
- Your right knee should be bent in front of your toes.
- You should feel a stretch in your left calf as you move forward. This position should be held for between 20-30 seconds. Then, switch sides.
- Continue with the set, extending your reach if necessary.
- Standing Quad StretchTight quads can cause back and knee pain. Regular stretching and lengthening of the quad muscles can help to alleviate these problems.
- Stand with your feet together, then raise your left foot towards your glutes. If you need support, hold on to a wall.
- Hold your left foot in your right hand, and push your hips forward by pulling it back towards your glutes.
- After you feel the quads stretch, keep this position for 20-30 second.
- Switch sides, and do it twice more on each leg.
- Lying Figure 4. StretchThis is a great hip flexor exercise for beginners. It stretches your hip abductors as well as your glutes. These muscles can become tight from sitting all day.
- Start by lying down on your back with your feet flat on the ground. Next, bend your knees towards the ceiling.
- Start by placing your left foot on your right leg, and then reaching through to grab your left leg.
- Keep your head, shoulders and neck on the ground. Once you feel your hips stretching, gently pull your left knee towards you.
- This position should be held for between 20 and 30 seconds before switching sides.
- For 2 sets, repeat each side.
These stretches can be added to your daily routine several times per week. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you notice a change! To improve your posture and prevent injury, you should include strengthtraining with your stretching.