A routine of stretching exercises is a critical part of your regular exercise routine. Stretching should be done immediately before and after a workout and can also serve as a discipline on "off" days. The benefits of stretching exercises include increased flexibility, reduced risk of injury, and accelerated muscle recovery time.
- Warm up. Walk for ten minutes or so, until your muscles begin to loosen up. Alternately, do a few sets of jumping jacks or another light exercise. Stretching cold muscles can cause tissue damage, so its important to do your stretching between your warm up and the exercise routine itself.
- Assume a neutral posture. Stand with your legs a shoulder-width apart. Let your arms hang loosely at your sides. Bend your knees slightly. Hold your body upright, and do not slump.
- Stretch your neck. Allow your chin to lower to your chest until you feel a stretch at the back of your neck. It's important not to overdo neck and back stretches, so don't push this stretch. Rest your hands lightly on the back of your head, and count to ten. Allow your head to return to a vertical position. Lower your right ear toward your shoulder, while continuing to face forward. Rest your right hand on the left side of your head. Do not pull. Hold for ten seconds, and allow your head to return to a vertical position. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Stretch your shoulders. Reach across your chest with your right arm until you feel the muscle begin to pull. Use your left arm to pull your right arm tight to your chest. Hold this position for ten seconds, then switch arms and repeat. Lift your right arm up, so that your upper arm is at a right angle to your shoulder. Use your left arm to hold your right arm for the stretch. Count to ten, then repeat with the opposite arm.
- Stretch your core. Place your hands on your buttocks for support. Tense your abs, and lift your chest, so that your back is arched. You should feel a stretch in your chest and abdomen. Hold for ten seconds.
- Stretch your back. Drop your chin to your chest. Gradually roll your body forward, keeping your legs slightly bent. The more slowly and specifically you do this, the better your back alignment will be for the exercise to come. When you reach the bottom, allow your upper body to hang loosely, with your head pointed toward the floor. Gradually roll back up to the top, paying mindful attention to your spinal alignment.
- Stretch your hamstrings. Put your feet together. Lean forward at the waste, supporting your motion by tensing the abdomen. This will help to take the pressure off your lower back. Reach directly down to your toes. Hold the position for ten seconds, then slowly return to neutral position. Do not slump, but keep a straight back during this exercise.
- Stretch your thighs. Lift your right foot, and fold your lower leg behind you so that your foot is near your buttocks. Use your right hand to hold the foot tight to your back side until you feel the stretch across your thigh. Repeat with the left leg.
- Stretch your calf. Place your hands against a nearby wall, and assume a lunge position, with your right knee bent, and your left leg created a straight line to the floor behind you. Keep both feet facing forward. Push back into the heel of your left foot until you feel the calf begin to resist. Hold the position for ten seconds, then switch feet.
Tips and Warnings:
- The longer you can hold a pose, the better your flexibility. Try increasing the time spent on each stretch.
- Do not overstretch, or stretch too quickly. Both sudden movement and overextension can cause injuries.
- Consult a physician before beginning any regular exercise routine.