Exercises to Increase Flexibility
When it comes to exercise programs, flexibility often takes a back seat to workouts that focus on building muscle mass and toning it into aesthetic form. Stretching exercises that increase flexibility are usually thought to be reserved for those in track and field, football and other related sports venues.
However, stretching not only improves athletic ability, but it also reduces the risk of injury, allows you to move more effortlessly when performing daily tasks and increases circulation. For example, if you enjoy regular hiking activity, or your job entails you regularly walking over rough terrain, and your hamstrings, calves and Achilles tendons are tight and don’t easily move to their full range of motion then, over time, you can cause microtrauma to the muscles and tendons in these areas.
Precautionary Advice about Stretching
Before we get into specific stretching exercises, there are some important pointers via Mayo Clinic which need to be emphasized first, as performing such moves incorrectly can cause injury.
Don’t Use Stretching as a Warm-up – Some people have been misinformed about pre-workout stretching. Stretching should not be performed with cold muscles and tendons. You should first warm-up with light aerobic exercise such as walking, moderate jogging, or cycling. Research also reveals that stretching before an intense activity like some track and field activities can actually harm the athlete’s performance.
Stretch Your Major Muscle Groups First – Before targeting specific individual muscles, first focus on stretching your major muscle groups. Start with the shoulders, neck and back of the upper body and the thighs, hips and calves of the lower body. You should also place more emphasis on the joints and muscles which you use most often for particular sports or work activities.
Don’t Stretch to the Point of Pain – Although the objective of stretching is to flex your muscles and tendons past their current boundaries, the experts at Mayo Clinic advise not to stretch to the point of pain. If you experience pain during a stretching exercise, back off slightly until it is relieved and hold your stretch at that point.
Do Not Bounce When Stretching – Another misconception is that bouncing during stretching exercises will help stretch the muscles and tendons more. However, Mayo Clinic warns that bouncing can actually cause damage through small tears in the tissue. These tears, upon healing, produce scar tissue which interferes with future stretching of the area. Simply stretch to your farthest point (without pain) and hold for a period of 30 seconds, release and repeat several times.
Stretching Exercises – Upper Body
Following are several common stretching exercises which can be used to create upper body flexibility.
Stretching Chest and Shoulders – From either a standing or kneeling position, clasp your hands behind your back and extend your arms until they are straight and pointed downward. Raise your arms upward while bending forward at the waist. Once you have raised your arms as high as possible (without experiencing pain), hold for 30 seconds. Release and repeat for 3 sets.
Stretching Triceps – Place one arm over your head and behind your back with your elbow pointed straight upward. Place the other arm up and behind your head, grasping the first elbow with that hand. Slowly pull the arm towards your head with your hand. Hold for 30 seconds, release and repeat with the other arm. Complete 3 sets with each arm.
Stretching Shoulders and Back – Place one arm across your chest and hold the elbow with the other hand. Pull the upper arm slowly toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds, release and repeat with the other arm. Complete 3 sets with each arm.
Stretching Exercises – Lower Body
Following are several common stretching exercises which can be used to create lower body flexibility.
Stretching Hamstrings – Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend forward and grasp your toes with both hands. Bend forward at the waist until your hamstrings are stretched as far as possible without pain. Hold for 30 seconds, release and repeat for 3 sets.
Stretching Calves – Stand facing a wall and lean against it with fully extended arms and with your legs forming an angle from your heal to your shoulders. Place the front foot a step in front of the back foot. Slowly increase the angle of the straight leg and body by lowering yourself towards the wall with bended arms until your calf is stretched as far as possible without pain. Hold for 30 seconds, release and repeat with the opposite leg. Complete 3 sets with each leg.
Stretching Quadriceps – From a standing position, raise the lower portion of one leg behind you and grab the ankle with your hand. Slowly pull your foot upward until the quad is stretched as far as possible without pain. Hold for 30 seconds, release and repeat with the other leg. Complete 3 sets with each leg.
Stretching Glutes – From a sitting position with your legs stretched out in front of you, twist your body so you are facing the right side, holding your weight with the right arm on the floor. Cross your right leg over your left leg and place your left arm over that leg. Slowly pull your leg to your body with your arm until fully stretched. Hold for 30 seconds, release and repeat with the opposite leg. Complete 3 sets with each leg.
Stretching Adductors – Stand with your feet spread comfortably apart. Bend one leg to the side while shifting your bodyweight to that side and lower down close to the floor. The other leg should be stretched straight out to the opposite side. Reach toward the extended ankle with that side’s hand and hold for 30 seconds. You can use the opposite hand to touch the floor and balance yourself. Release and repeat with the opposite side. Complete 3 sets with each side.
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