Stretching for sport and exercise improves flexibility, which increases the ability of a joint to move through its full range of motion; in other words, how far it can bend, twist and reach.
What happens when we stretch?
Regular stretching is thought to increase flexibility, both by making muscles more supple and by retraining the nervous system to tolerate stretching further. Flexibility from regular stretching gradually disappears once you stop stretching – typically after four weeks.
How to stretch properly?
To stretch properly and safely, slowly stretch the muscle just until you feel resistance. Resistance is the point at which you feel a slight pull. It should not be painful. Stop and hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds without bouncing up and down.
During the stretch, breathe deeply and regularly. Don’t hold your breath. Make sure your muscles are warmed up before you stretch. The best time to stretch is after exercise, when your muscles are most supple. Learn to make the most of stretching by clicking here.
Active stretches you should be doing
Each of the exercises here is a dynamic stretch, which means it increases flexibility through movement, rather than by simply holding a position. “Active stretching decreases your risk of injury, relieves back pain, and boosts your athletic performance,” says Tanja Djelevic, who includes this series in her bendable body class at crunch fitness in West Hollywood. Try this routine before a race, after a workout, or at the end of the day—and experience the difference a little motion can make.
1) Pile stretch
What: Stretches inner and outer thighs, arms, shoulders, and back
How: Stand with feet wide, toes turned out, and raise arms overhead. Squat deep and lower the arms in front of you, elbows touching knees and palms facing forward. Pull right shoulder back as you raise right arm [shown], then twist in opposite direction, raising left arm. Rise up to starting position. Do 8 reps.
2) Low lunge
What : Stretches intercostal muscles (between the ribs) and the thoracic cage aiding the lungs to take in more oxygen
How: Lunge forward with left leg until thigh is parallel to floor, and place hands on floor on either side of left foot. Raise left arm straight up toward ceiling as you rotate left shoulder back [shown]. Lower hand to starting position, and move into next stretch (active pigeon).
3) Active Pigeon
What : Stretches hip flexors, butt, and abs
How: Pull left knee in toward right hand, then lower left leg to floor so foot is below right hip. Lower hips as you push through hands, lifting head and chest [shown]. From this position, move into the next stretch (down-dog extension).
4) Wrap around
What : Stretches neck and shoulders
How : Stand with feet hip-width apart and reach right arm behind your back, palm facing away from you. Clasp hands and pull left elbow back as you draw shoulder blades together. Hold as you circle head slowly [shown] to complete 1 rep. Do 8 reps.
5) Take a bow
What : Stretches shoulders, legs, chest, and back
How : Stand with feet wide, left foot turned out, and rotate torso to the left. Clasp hands behind you with palms together and arms extended. Bend forward from hips until back is parallel to floor as you raise arms [shown]. Slowly rise up to starting position. Do 8 reps.
6) The standing side stretch
What: Stretches arms, torso
How: Stand with your feet together and your arms straight overhead. Clasp your hands together, with your fingers interlaced and pointer fingers extended. Inhale as you reach upward. Breathe out as you bend your upper body to the right. Take five slow breaths. Slowly return to the center. Repeat on the left side
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