I have to confess: Even though I’m well aware of its importance, I don’t stretch as often as I should. I’ve always been flexible, so not stretching every day didn’t seem to have much of an impact on me. But over the years, and with more muscle added to my frame, I’ve noticed that I’m not nearly as flexible as I used to be.
Flexibility, of course, is one of the greatest benefits of stretching regularly. But more importantly, it helps prevent injury and improves your fitness or athletic performance. Plus, sometimes stretching just feels really good!
Stretching can be done anywhere, at any time. You don’t need any special equipment, but if you’re exercising at a gym, you might want to bring your own mat, as they’re not always available—or clean, when they are.
Here’s a basic stretching routine I like to follow. Remember not to bounce or jerk, which can tear muscles, or stretch to the point of feeling pain. Focus on slow, controlled stretching, and always stop if it hurts.
Start by warming up on the treadmill for about five minutes.
• Neck stretch: Bend your head, ear to shoulder, holding for a count of 20 to 30 seconds on each side.
• Joint stretches:
- Wrists/elbows (with arms at your sides, rotate and flex wrists and elbows)
- Shoulders (shoulder rolls, shoulders to ears)
- Side stretches (side bends)
- Hip circles
- Half squats (for knees)
- Ankle stretch (lean forward in lunge position with hands on wall; hold)
• Stretch between sets, focusing on whichever body parts you are working.
• Neck stretch: Sit or stand with shoulders relaxed and back straight. Bring your left ear down toward your left shoulder and hold. Roll your head down toward the ground and bring your chin to your chest. Repeat on right side.
• Back stretch: Sit on the floor with hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. Engage your abdominals as if pulling your naval toward your spine, rounding your back toward the ceiling (like a cat). Allow your head and neck to fall naturally between your arms. Repeat stretch in opposite direction.
• Hip and glute stretch: Lie on your back with legs extended and back straight. Keep hips level and your lower back on the floor. Bend your left knee, placing left foot flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle at your left knee. Grab the back of your left thigh and hug your legs toward your chest. Place your right elbow on the inner portion of your right knee and push it slightly to the side. Repeat on opposite side.
NPC National Figure competitor Melissa Transou, a fitness expert, wife and mother, blogs about the unique sports and nutrition needs of women and female athletes exclusively for Vitacost.com. Learn more about Melissa in this recent RXMuscle.com spotlight article, connect with her on Facebook or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.