Flexibility isn’t discussed much when it comes to general wellness, but it’s not just for yogis and gymnasts.
Though recent studies have found that stretching before exercise is not as “necessary” as once thought, that shouldn’t be interpreted as “no stretching is needed.” Increasing your flexibility can help you:
- avoid injuries
- stave off arthritis and other chronic issues
- increase your range of motion
- improve posture and balance
Increasing your flexibility is right up there with cardiovascular health and strength training when it comes to staying fit and healthy. And no, you don’t have to become a human pretzel to enjoy the benefits. Below are five simple ways to increase flexibility, from specific stretches to tips on how to add new additions to your current routine.
Stretching can be incredibly beneficial, but is it best before or after you work out?
It comes down to what you want to achieve. If you stretch before exercise, it can weaken muscles in the immediate future, but increase your range of motion. If you really want to get your foot behind your head during your workout for some reason or have other range of motion desires, stretch beforehand.
If you want to increase your flexibility overall, not just for the next hour or less, it can be more rewarding to stretch once your muscles have warmed up. If you’re not ready to add a full stretching workout day to your routine, consider adding stretches to the end of your current regimen. Though stretching before is fine if you prefer it, stretching once your muscles are warm and pliable can more effectively increase your power and speed and help prevent injury.
What’s going to help most? Stretching for 10 minutes a day is best, no matter when you do it. This is especially true if you’re currently dealing with:
- balance issues
- back pain
- decreased range of motion
There are a number of different types of stretching, like dynamic, static, ballistic, and beyond. But there are two main types you want to focus on and know about: dynamic and static.
Static stretching is what a lot of people think of when they think of stretching. This is holding a position that goes just past your point of comfort for about 30 seconds and repeating it two to three times. Think of the standard quad stretch when you stand on one leg, bend the other knee, and grab that foot.
Dynamic stretching is often done before exercise. Done correctly, dynamic stretches warm up muscles and lubricate joints. A good example is swinging your arms across your chest, back and forth, prior to doing pushups.
If you decide to stretch every day or to add stretches with exercise, do a bit of dynamic stretching before you begin your routine. Static stretches are best for lengthening your ligaments after your workout, after muscles are warm.
- Stand with your legs hip-width apart. Grab a chair back for more support if you need to.
- Rest your right hand on your hip (or chair), and lift your left foot off the floor just a few inches (as much as you can and still keep your leg straight).
- Slowly swing your leg across your body to the right, then out to the left. Don’t go as high as you can. This is just to warm up your hip joint.
- After doing this at least 10 times, switch your swing to forward and back. Again, don’t go as high as you can go, just around a 45-degree angle at most from your standing leg.
- When done, switch sides.
As mentioned above, simply swinging your arms back and forth is a great dynamic stretch.
- Stand with your feet planted firmly. Make sure nothing is in your way that will get hit as you move.
- Begin to swing your arms in front of your body, crisscrossing your arms as you do. Then swing them back out to your sides or a little beyond.
- Don’t stop the swing to only go to a certain point. Just swing gently and in a controlled manner, limiting your swing only if it hurts.
Static stretches should go just past your point of resistance and then be held for 20 to 30 seconds. The stretch shouldn’t hurt and you may be able to go deeper as you hold it. Exhaling helps you move deeper into a stretch.
- Stand with feet hip-width apart.
- Inhale and lift your arms up and out until you can clasp them overhead.
- As you exhale, reach up through your spine, turn you right hand palm up, grasp your right wrist with your left hand, and bend to the left.
- As you continue to hold this position, breathing deeply and slowly, checking in with your shoulders. They shouldn’t be up around your ears, but rather in a neutral position with your shoulder blades relaxed on your back.
- Sit on the ground in a wide straddle.
- Turn your upper body toward your right leg so your leg is stretching out in line with the middle of your chest.
- Facing your leg, slowly exhale and lower your ribs toward your knee. You can reach for your knee, your calf, or your foot to help support you.
- Hold for at least 20 seconds, and do the stretch at least twice on each leg. You can alternate legs or simply do the stretch multiple times on one leg before switching.