Stretching is an important, but often neglected habit. Flexibility is one of the key components of fitness, and a good stretching routine is one of the things that can vastly improve your flexibility. But how can you make your stretching routine really work for you? Here are 10 things you can do to improve the way you stretch.
1. Actually Stretch
Despite our best intentions and knowing that we should, many of us neglect stretching. And no matter how good stretching is for us, a stretching routine can’t help us if we don’t actually do it. The first step in improving our stretching is to actually make good on our intentions, get down on the floor and do it.
2. Dynamic Stretch before Exercise
While many people are in the habit of holding long stretches just before they go and run (and while our old gym coaches swore that that was the healthy thing to do), it now seems that dynamic stretching is a much better thing to do before you work out. Moving gently through your range of motion can improve your flexibility, but without leaving you temporarily more vulnerable to muscle tears or weakness, like static stretching.
3. Static Stretch after Exercise
After your workout, however, is a great time to implement a static stretching routine. Then, your muscles are warm and pliable and able to really get into a deep stretch without as much danger of injury. When doing static stretching, breathe slowly and deeply, focusing on allowing the muscle to let go, but not forcing it.
4. Stretch Evenly
With all that we do in terms of exercise, our goal should be balance. A balanced body is healthy, strong, and effective. However, many of us are very unbalanced in our stretching. Our bodies are composed of muscles that work in opposition to each other. One muscle or muscle group works to extend a joint, another to contract it. If we only stretch one of those muscle groups, we may end up in an unbalanced state that can lead to weakness and pain. A full body stretching routine can be very helpful in allowing us to reach a more balanced state.
5. Do Yoga
Yoga is a great way of mixing in some stretching with both some physical exercise and a meditative practice. Practicing yoga can help you to improve your flexibility and add in some more stretching in a natural, easy way.
6. Stretch before Bed
Adding in a small stretching routine just before bed can be a great way to both improve your flexibility and get ready to go to sleep. Evening rituals are one way to help prepare the body for sleep, and stretching can be a relaxing and healthy way to do this.
7. Stretch during the Workday
If you work at an office, you probably spend a lot of time sitting. While sitting can feel somewhat relaxing, it’s not actually a great position for our posture. It encourages our heads and shoulders to slump forward, our chest to cave in, our backs to round, and both our hamstrings and hip flexors to tighten. While you can do some remedial work by implementing a stretching routine after work, it can also be very helpful to sneak in a few stretches as the work day goes by. Take a break every hour or two to do a little chair yoga, stretch your legs or arms, or just to roll your neck.
8. Stretch while Relaxing
Another way to improve your flexibility is to stretch a little while you’re relaxing. If you’re sitting and reading a book or watching TV, toss in a few stretches. It doesn’t take much work, and it can really help as an addition to your stretching routine for flexibility.
One of the reasons why our muscles get tense in the first place is that we carry stress. The more you can release stress, the more effective your stretching routine will be, because your muscles won’t tighten up as much in the first place. Luckily, your stretching routine can itself be a tool in your quest to release stress. If you focus on abdominal breathing while you stretch, you can make your stretching a sort of meditation and increase your level of relaxation.
Although stretching is important, motion may actually be even more critical. Just moving around, whether it’s formal exercise or not, can help your muscles to keep from seizing up. Taking a walk or an easy jog, playing ball with the kids, doing a little yoga, or even just rolling your shoulders can help you to gently move your joints through their range of motion. A body in motion tends to remain in motion, and if you let your body move, you are likely to retain your range of motion.