It's good to stretch
Stretching is the often-forgotten component of fitness that gets overlooked in favour of spending your valuable time doing something that makes you sweat.
But stretching has benefits beyond improvements in flexibility, muscles and joints.
Having a proper stretch session is also a great way to de-stress and get your blood flowing in a good way.
How flexible you are means how far your muscles can lengthen. This in turn, could influence how well the joints in your body perform. Within muscles and tendons, there are protective mechanisms that tell your brain if you’re stretching too far or too fast. Your brain will then send another message to put the brakes on and try and shorten that muscle to stop it being injured.
Despite what you may think, stretching shouldn’t be painful. It should feel more like tolerable discomfort.
To develop flexibility, like any other aspect of fitness, it must be done frequently enough for your body to adapt and get better. This routine could either be done as a standalone, full-body flexibility session two to three times a week or completed at the end of your workout.
- Breathe: Regular breathing means a relaxed body. Focus on a nice, long exhale as you challenge the end of your current range and avoid tensing.
- Find Your Range: When you get close to your current range of flexibility, you’re discomfort level will increase. On a scale of 1-10, don’t push past a seven. Slightly uncomfortable but manageable is what you’re looking for.
- Hold and Push: Hold that seven and don’t change position for 10-15 seconds. You should feel the discomfort start to come down. Your job is to then go that little bit further until you find that 7/10 again.
- Rinse and Repeat: Keep that process going for each stretch 3-4 times.
- Be aware that some people are more bendy than others: Don’t worry if you currently feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz. Consistency pays off with stretches. It won’t be long before you find your body having more freedom and more movement potential. Keep stretching – just five or ten minutes each day or even every other day will help.
The Stretch Routine
(Lower Back – Chest)
- Lay on your back with knees bent and feet flat
- Have your arms about 45 degrees from your body and palms up, elbows down
- Glue your knees together and let them slowly lay to the side
- Keep your head shoulder blades on the floor
Top Tip: Your shoulders tell you how far you can go. If the opposite shoulder to the side your rolling to lifts, you’ve reached your (current) level of flexibility.
(Upper Back – Lower Back)
- Kneel on the floor with your knees open a little wider than your hips
- Lay your chest towards the floor and rest your forehead if you can
- Reach forward and lay your palms and elbows on the floor
Top Tip: If getting your forehead to the ground is currently out of reach, roll up a towel or use yoga blocks to support you.
- Kneel on the floor and place your knees as wide as you can
- Support yourself on hands or forearms
- Keep your torso tight and push your hips back
Top Tip: Keep an eye on your spine when you push your hips back. If you see it rounding, you’ve reached your current range and your body is tricking you into thinking you’ve gone further
Seated Figure 4
(Lower Back – Glute)
- Sit tall with one leg out straight
- Cross the other leg over the top and keep your foot close to your bottom
- Turn to face the bent leg and either brace it with the back of your arm or hug it close to your chest
Top Tip: If turning your torso currently an impossible task, keep facing forwards and give your bent knee a big hug as you’ll still get a great stretch in your outer thigh
All Fours Torso Rotation
(Back – Chest)
- Position yourself on your hands and knees
- Hands beneath shoulders and knees beneath hips
- Tighten your torso and take one hand off the floor and place it at your temples
- Turn your torso and aim to point your elbow up to the ceiling
Top Tip: Your brain can trick you in to thinking the further around you look around, the bigger the stretch. Make sure the neck stays fairly still and you rotate from your torso.
Kneeling Hip Flexor
(Front of Thigh/Hips – Abs)
- Place one foot out in front of you and keep your back knee on the ground
- Anchor your knee, keep your torso tight and push the hips forwards
- Take the arms up and reach for the ceiling
Top Tip: When you push your hip forwards, you should feel your glute muscle at the back of your hip really tighten. If not, reset position and try again.
Deep Squat to Forward Bend
(Glute – Front of Thighs – Back of Thighs – Back)
- Place your feet wider than your hips
- Bend the knees and hips and sink towards the floor – Hold this position
- Keep your hands and head low and aim to push your hips up high by straightening your legs as much as you can – hold this position
- Be careful as you lift out of the forward bend as it can cause light headedness if done too fast
Top Tip: Play with how wide you have your feet to help you get deeper in to your squat and start by holding the knee or shin and gradually build up to getting to your feet.
- Stand tall and interlock your fingers behind your back
- Lift the chest and pull your shoulders down
- Aim to lift your hands away from your back as far as you can
Top Tip: Check your neck. Pushing your head forwards doesn’t mean you pushed your arms further back. It’s your brain trying to trick you again. Imagine gripping an orange under your chin. Don’t drop it!
Mark Hatfield @fitnessxl is the Fitness Acadamy Trainer for Nuffield Health where he trains personal trainers to be their best. He is has been training clients for the past 19 years and is the owner of Fluid Coaching.
Photos: Eddie Macdonald | Workout model: Kristen @ MOT Models
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