While stretching is generally regarded as one component of an overall fitness plan, for example, aiding in warm-ups and cool downs, it has also been shown to improve flexibility over the long run. It’s undoubtedly as important in athletic performance as it is in carrying out day-to-day activities.
A recent study performed at the Louisiana State University in the US found that stretching may actually enhance performance, increase endurance and add to overall strength. The author of the study, associate professor in kinesiology Arnold Nelson believes that stretching is an excellent supplement to aerobic and strength training, but would also benefit people starting on a fitness programme who have not exercised regularly. Stretching, he says, “is a good place for them to start on the path to wellness.”
Aside from enjoying increased flexibility, stretching increases blood flow to the muscles and cartilage, thereby improving circulation, the increased range of motion aids balance, which becomes increasingly important as we age, it relaxes tense muscles associated with stress, and in conjunction with other back strengthening exercises can alleviate lower back pain.
The 7 best stretches
It’s important to remember that one shouldn’t stretch cold muscles, for instance on waking. If you want to do a few morning stretches, it’s best to first perform some kind of mild warm-up to get the blood to the tissues. So, shake out your hands and walk around the house before stretching to prevent potential muscle strain.
These stretches will stretch the main muscle groups of the body – hold each stretch for 15 to 20 seconds. Stretching shouldn’t be painful – the stretch should be taken to a point of mild discomfort and held at that position, no further. Each of the stretches described can be done two or three times.
- Neck: Let your head loll gently towards your right shoulder – don’t force the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds. Relax, and then repeat on the opposite side.
- Shoulders: Place one arm across your chest (running past the opposite shoulder) and hold it there with the other hand. The stretch should be felt across the shoulder blade and around the shoulder.
- Chest: Position your hand against a wall, standing an arm’s length away. Slowly turn your head and body away from the wall until you feel a comfortable stretch across the front of the shoulder and into the chest.
- Quadriceps: Stand, supporting yourself with one hand. Bend your right knee and use your right hand to bring your right foot to your bottom. When you feel a stretch, hold it there for 15 to 20 seconds.
- Hamstrings: Rest your foot on an elevated surface. Stand tall on the straight leg and slowly bend at the hips, leaning forward over the top leg. If there is too much of a pull behind your knee, bend it slightly – be sure to stretch from your hips.
- Buttocks: Sit on the edge of a chair and rest one foot on the opposite thigh. Sit tall and carefully bend forward, stretching from the hips until you feel a stretch around the buttocks area.
- Calves: Rest your hand against a wall and step back with one foot. Lower the heel of the back foot onto the ground and hold. Repeat each stretch using the other leg.
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