Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises should inevitably be a part of any exercise program that you undertake. When you stretch, the muscles also stretch and hence they become more flexible. These exercises must be done both when you warm up and when you cool down. Dynamic stretching exercises, which are slow and controlled, should be a part of warming up and static stretches, which relax the muscles and afford full range of motion, should be a part of the cool down program. Breathing should be free and easy and each stretch should be held for at least 20-30 seconds.

Calf Stretches Two muscles come into play. They are the Gastrocnemius muscle, which is used while extending the knee, and the soleus muscle is worked when the knee is bent. Both these muscles are present at the back of the calf and propel the muscles while running. Athletes usually perform the gastroc stretch and the soleus stretch just before they run a race.

Hamstring stretches activate the muscles that are located at the back of the thigh. The primary aim of such stretches is to flex the knee and extend the hip. These stretching exercises can be performed while sitting or standing or also when in a supine position.

Stretching Philosophy

Stretching should be done in a peaceful surrounding with no distractions. Your mind and body should be at ease and relaxed. If you are in a rush,or have something on your mind, and you just want to get it over with, don’t stretch. Do it later. You can’t fool your muscles into relaxing if you’re not relaxed, they sense what you’re feeling.

If stretching is your only physical exercise endeavor, do it at the beginning of the day. You should stretch before, and after, any physical activity. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, stretch.

The Exercises

The following are examples of general static stretching exercises that could form part of the cool down program at the end of a training session when stretches are held for 10 seconds or to improve the mobility and range of movement when stretches are held for 30 seconds. In all exercises breathe easily whilst performing them.

Chest Stretch

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent
Hold you arms out to the side parallel with the ground and the palms of the hand facing forward
Stretch the arms back as far as possible
You should feel the stretch across your chest

Biceps Stretch

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent
Hold you arms out to the side parallel with the ground and the palms of the hand facing forward
Rotate the hands so the palms face to the rear
Stretch the arms back as far as possible
You should feel the stretch across your chest and in the biceps

Upper Back Stretch

Stand tall, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, knees slightly bent
Interlock your fingers and push your hands as far away from your chest as possible, allowing your upper back to relax
You should feel the stretch between your shoulder blades

When should you stretch?

It is better to stretch in the morning once you have been up and about for a bit. So if exercise is not part of your regimen, try stretching mid-morning. This can be tricky if you work in an office, so don’t worry if you have to leave it until you get home; it’s just as effective.

Pre-workout: You don’t need to stretch before exercise, but you do need to warm up. For example, if you are about to play tennis and you can move your arm in all directions – above, sideways and behind you – without limitation, you are already stretched. Therefore, a range of pre-exercise warm-ups that will simulate the movements of the activity you’re about to embark on will provide all of the “stretch” that you need.

Post-workout: Stretching is a must here as it alleviates the muscular tension that exercise creates. And while it will not prevent next-day muscle pain, it will reduce stiffness and increase mobility.

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