To stretch or not to stretch
The aged argument of whether to stretch prior to and/or after a workout has divided people in the fitness community for a while now and has been even more muddied by the introduction of dynamic stretching as an alternative to static stretching.
Stretching for exercise improves your flexibility, which increases the ability of joints to move through their full range of motion and increases their bend and reach. So, from weekend joggers to elite athletes, stretching before exercise is common but how much do you really need to do?
Adults should do flexibility exercises for all major muscle and tendon groups before exercise and if possible, a few times a week.
Upper body - neck, shoulders, chest, back
Lower body - lower back, hips, legs, and ankles
For static stretching, which I will focus on in this blog, is the most straightforward to do to get some quick movement going. Extend and stretch at the point of your muscle getting tight and in slight discomfort for 20/30 seconds. When you release a stretch after a short break, return to the stretch again, stretching slightly further than you did before.
A quick couple of static stretches you should do
Upper body (Before weight training)
- Start sitting or standing tall, place one hand on your lower back, the other hand on the opposite side of your head and pull your head toward your shoulder, looking straight ahead until you feel a stretch in your neck. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on other side
Cross-body shoulder stretch
- Start sitting or standing tall and hold one arm above your elbow with your opposite hand, and pull it across your body toward your chest until you feel a stretch on your shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on other side
Reclined spinal twist
- Lie face up with your arms out to your sides, keep one leg extended, pull the other knee to your chest and then let it drop over the extended leg. Aim to keep your shoulders flat on the ground as you feel a stretch in your back. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the other side
- Start standing tall, fingers interlocked behind your back. Keep your back straight and shoulder blades together, push your arms up until you feel the stretch in your chest. Golf for 30 seconds
- Kneel on the ground with your knees wider than hip-width apart and your feet together behind you. Sit back on your heels and fold forward, extending your arms out in front of you and rest your forehead on the floor. Move from left to right to widen the range of the stretch. You'll feel this stretch in your shoulders and back as well as glutes and hips.
Lower Body (Before a run or brisk walk)
- Stand near a wall with one foot in front of the other, front knee slightly bent. Keeping your back knee straight, your heel on the ground, and lean toward the wall until you feel the stretch all along the calf of your back leg. Try and hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
- Sit down on the ground, bend your knees and bring the soles of the feet together. Hold your feet with your hands and rest your elbows on your knees, allowing your knees to fall outwards to the ground while keeping your back straight. Apply gentle pressure on the inner thigh by pressing gently on the knees with the elbows. Hold for 30 seconds and release and repeat a few more times.
- Kneel on the ground with one leg outstretched, keeping your back straight. Bend over and walk your hands down your outstretched leg until you can reach no further comfortably and hold for 30 seconds. Alternate legs, reaching further each time to near maximum stretch.
- To follow on from this stretch, bend your outstretched knee and lean forward on it gently to stretch your glutes
Standing quad stretch
- Standing near a wall or solid object to balance yourself, raise one leg up behind you and grasp with your corresponding hand. Pull your foot up towards your bum and hold for 30 seconds
Downward facing dog
- Start in a high plank, hands directly under shoulders, legs out straight behind you, feet hip-width apart. Lift your bum in the air and press through your palms.Try to straighten your legs completely and lower your heels to the floor and hold for 30 seconds.