Let’s face it, few us really enjoy stretching—myself included. After my hour-long workout, all I want to do was hit the shower, then hit the road. This is not good and I know it, but I would rather spend that extra five or ten minutes sweating than being supine on the floor with my legs in some awkward position.
It wasn’t until my ridiculously tight hamstrings started causing my lower back to ache that I saw the error of my ways. Stretching remains the best way to stay loose, limber, and prevent injury, says Ike Smith, a New York City trainer (www.Iketraining.com). “It also increases blood flow to the muscles and promotes physical and mental relaxation.”
Stretching can be done during or after exercise. For a pre-workout warm-up, try dynamic exercises that require full range of motion. (Walking lunges and jump roping are good examples.) They increase body temperature, blood flow, and movement of the joints, which generally wakes up the central nervous system.
To cool-down post workout try static stretching, which relaxes muscles by lengthening them. Unlike dynamic stretching, static stretching focuses on individual muscles like quads and hip flexors, and require you to hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds (i.e., head bend, butterfly pose, truck rotation).
“You may feel some slight discomfort during the process as you attempt to further the stretch, so be careful not to push it to the point of pain,” advises Smith. “It’s all about knowledge and awareness. Once you have that, you ultimately see the value in stretching.”
Still feeling reluctant. Smith believes you’ll change your tune once you see how stretching enhancing your performance in your workouts or your favorite sport. Here are a few of his easy moves for loosening up:
Standing stretch (for quadriceps): Stand with your feet together and arms at your sides. Grab your right foot or ankle with your right hand. Keep your torso straight and your right knee pointing straight down as you pull your calf toward your hamstring. Hold for 10 seconds, and then release the right leg down. Repeat the stretch on the other leg. Do this 2 to 3 times on each leg.
Seated forward bend (for hamstrings): Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you and together. Lean forward at the waist and try to touch your feet with your hands. If you cannot get there, just go as far as possible. Hold the stretch position 10 to 30 seconds. Repeat the movement 3 times.
Angry Cat (for lower back): Begin on your hands and knees. Your shoulders should be directly over your wrists and hips directly over your knees. Place your head and neck in a straight line with your spine. Keep the muscles of your neck relaxed. Slowly arch your back, contracting your abdominal muscles and pulling your back and spine straight up. Hold the position for 10 seconds, and then return your back to the neutral position. Repeat 2 to 3 times.
Overhead tricep stretch: Reach over your head with your right arm, then bend your elbow so that your hand drops behind your head. Grasp your right elbow with your left hand and gently push your right arm farther behind your head. When you feel a stretch in the back of your upper arm, hold the position for 10 to 20 seconds. Switch arms and repeat on the other side. Repeat 2 to 3 times on each side.