One of the most overlooked aspects of fitness is stretching. Garry Kerr of British Military Fitness explains the benefits and provides some important tips
While we are all aware that we should stretch, fitness enthusiasts are all too often unaware of what the major benefits are. Stretching in all forms should be a large aspect of all training programmes. In its most basic form, it is a natural activity. People often stretch instinctively after waking from sleep or after long periods of inactivity. As a form of exercise, stretching involves elongating a specific muscle or muscle group to its fullest length. Individuals who fail to stretch effectively will cause long term damage to their joints or muscles. Poor flexibility can lead to biomechanical issues, which left alone can take months to fix.
FIVE DAILY EXERCISES
We have identified five top stretches to do daily. These stretches can be done after a class, but please remember, recent studies suggest that performing static stretches pre-exercise is not beneficial.
THE HIP/GLUT STRETCH
Lie on your back and cross your left foot over your right knee. Put your hands behind your right thigh and gently pull your leg towards you, while keeping your upper body relaxed. Then switch over.
Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Straighten one leg and pull it towards you slowly, while the opposite leg remains slightly bent.
HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
Starting in the lunge position (stride forward), rest your back knee on the floor, while the front knee is at a 90 degree angle. It’s important that your abs are in and tight. Slowly move forward until you feel a stretch in your front leg/hip. To increase the stretch, just raise your arm up to the sky (the same side as your front leg).
On your hands and knees, straighten your legs, but keep them slightly bent. Slowly press one foot into the floor, keep your abs in and hold. Then switch over.
QUADRICEPS/ ILIOTIBIAL BAND STRETCH
Standing upright, pull one heel to the backside with the opposite arm. Keeping both knees together pull the foot to the outside of the opposite buttock. Slightly turn out the stretching thigh but keep the knees together.
Aim to try and complete between two to three stretches on each side. To improve flexibility, try and hold each stretch for 30 seconds. You should feel some mild discomfort as you stretch but nothing too intense to cause you pain. Never bounce a stretch. Relax and keep the tension constant in the muscle. Remember; don’t overlook the benefits of stretching. Improving your flexibility cannot only reduce the chance of potential injury, but can improve your performance and improve your health. Ensure that stretching is a regular part of your fitness program, but also aim to try and stretch every day.
THE BENEFITS OF STRETCHING
- Increased flexibility Flexibility is the degree to which an individual muscle will lengthen. Lack of flexibility causes your movement to become slower and less fluid and makes you more susceptible to muscle strains, ligament sprains and other soft tissue injuries. The most effective way to increase your flexibility is by stretching.
- Improved circulation Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles. The increased blood flow brings more nourishment to the muscles and removes waste by products from the muscles. Increased blood flow can also help speed up recovery from muscle and joint injuries.
- Improved balance and coordination The increased flexibility that comes from stretching improves balance and coordination, which lowers your risk of falling.
- Helps alleviate lower back pain Stiff and tight muscles in the lower back, hamstrings, buttocks and hips are some of the more common causes of lower back pain. Stretching these muscles can alleviate some mild forms of lower back pain. It is important to remember that poor flexibility is not the cause of all back pain but it can be a contributing factor.
- Helps improve cardiovascular health Recent studies have found that stretching can improve artery function and lower blood pressure.