When we think of stretching, we associate it more with workouts and sports. The truth is stretching is important not just before any strenuous physical activity or playing a sport, but also in your daily routine even for people with non-athletic backgrounds. It is in fact a natural process for body. Without stretching our body parts will grow stiff and their movement will become difficult with time.
Stretching is at times also our natural instinct. While sleeping soundly we stretch our legs instinctively and while waking up in the morning, sometimes we feel like stretching our arms. But of course, for the rest of the body and particularly important muscles, we need some kind of stretching. We probably do not notice, but due to our sedentary lifestyle, our muscles over the time bear the brunt of our incorrect postures and become immobile.
For example if we are constantly sitting throughout the day, out hamstring muscles get stiff. If the hamstring muscles are stiff, we won’t be able to straighten our legs properly and even stand properly.
The adequate stretching of calf muscles is important for the movement in legs. Our joints, calves, hips, shoulders, neck all need movement and mobility. Stretching keeps the muscles strong and flexible and decreases injury risk in joints and muscles. Stretching also helps improve the posture and overall well being.
According to American College of Sports Medicine, stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week for 60 seconds per exercise is important for muscle mobility
The most crucial areas that require stretching are:
- Hip flexors in the pelvis
- Quadriceps in the front of the thigh
Kinds of stretching
When you hold your stretches for 15-20 seconds without moving, they are called static stretches. They are done to loosen the muscles post exercise. A review article published in January 2020 by the Scandinavian Society of Clinical Physiology and Nuclear Medicine, said that pre-exercise static stretching reduced an individual’s overall muscular strength and maximal performance. That’s why a dynamic stretch is recommended before exercise in place of static stretching.
Dynamic stretching means when you move a joint or muscles through its full range of motion. This helps in getting your cold muscles get ready for exercise. Dynamic stretching can be done before or after exercise and is a more recommended form of stretching.
When to stretch
Before exercise/physical activity: Warm-ups are always advised before an exercise not without a reason. The cold muscles are prone to injury or underperformance if not warmed up with stretches. That’s why you will notice that football or cricket players do stretching exercises before any match or practice. To warm up muscles before any strenuous activity, it is advised to do stretching. It leads to better performance and prevents injury.
After exercise: Your muscles may become sore due to strenuous physical activity or sport. Stretching is required also to relax the muscles and release tension. The soreness or any kind of tightness can be fixed with the right kind of stretching exercises.
After sitting: Sitting for prolonged hours can make your hamstring muscles stiff. When you sit all the time without moving any muscles, they get stiff and as a result the blood flow to the muscles is restricted. In order to overcome the harmful effects of sitting, it is important to do some hamstring stretches that improves mobility around the area. Stretching improves blood flow in the muscles and helps to straighten the leg and stand properly.
Before bed: While we are working or going about a regular work day, we hardly notice how stress takes a toll on our muscles and make them extremely tight. The stress is stored in the muscles and make it difficult for us to relax and enjoy a good night sleep. This is one of the reasons why insomnia is rising among highly stressed working professionals. Stretching aids in relaxing the tired muscles and helps one to sleep better.
After getting up: Yes, certain stretches are also important when you get up early in the morning. Especially for arthritis patients who find their muscles sore and inactive in the morning, they can do ankle circles, neck circles and other such stretches recommended to them by their physiotherapist. In general also, considering your muscles remain inactive during the process of sleeping, stretching them after waking up makes them active.
Benefits of stretching
- Helps to correct body posture: The incorrect body posture leads to many kinds of chronic pains like back pain and neck pain. Over the times stress accumulates in the muscles and when we do not release it, it leads to chronic pains. Muscles get stiff if not worked upon and then a sudden physical activity can lead to soreness, pain or injury. Stretching helps to improve your body posture and makes your muscles flexible and active.
- Decreases risk of injury: It happens sometimes, that after a certain age or due to a health condition, people may lose their balance and fall. If you are doing daily stretching, the risk of injury is less. Also, when you do a physical exercise or participate in a sports without proper stretching exercises, your risk of getting an injury or sprain is more. By doing daily stretching, the risk of getting joint and muscle injury comes down as your body becomes more flexible and muscles get strengthened.
- Makes your body flexible: Your muscles will not get flexible by doing stretches for a few days or weeks. It may makes months before your body acquired this flexibility. Stretching over a period of time makes your muscles strong and flexible. It helps your joints move through full range of motion.
- Improves performance in physical activity: Your joints open up when you do dynamic stretching before any physical activity or sports. Not only it reduces the risk of injury, but your performance also improves as your muscles now have a full range of motion and can push you to literally put your best foot forward.
Don’ts to remember before you start with stretching
- While you may feel overenthusiastic while starting to stretch, it is advisable to be mindful of your boundaries and respect them. Don’t overstretch beyond your comfort point and if you experience any kind of pain, just stop.
- Do not stretch while you have cold muscles and straight from an inactive position. Take a light walk or do a little bit of jogging before you do any of the stretches. If you do stretching without a light warm-up, there are chances of getting injury.
- Do not be tempted to stretch in the area which is vulnerable or has experienced an injury in the past. It is best to take your trainer’s advice if you feel certain kind of stretches will do more harm than benefit.
- If you have any acute pain, it is best to seek advice instead of worsening your condition by stretching areas that are tricky.
Daily full body stretches you must do
Whether you are an athlete or not, engage in regular physical activity or lead a relative sedentary lifestyle, stretching is something that you must do. Stretching can also improve our bad posture and remove tightness from muscles. The benefits of stretching extend beyond your performance in strength, it improves blood circulation and flow of oxygen in the body. It improves your body posture and prevents early onset of ageing. Stretching also helps calm your mind as it releases stress and prepares your mind for meditation. Many a time people complain of headaches due to their stressful lifestyles, stretching can also help you get rid of tension headaches.
Simple back stretch
A back stretch can help you get rid of back pains. Doing it over the time can be really helpful in relieving even chronic pains.
Steps to do the stretch
- Stand up straight with your legs apart
- Bend your elbows and bring your hands in front of your shoulders, palms forward
- Pull your shoulder blades together, arching your upper and lower back and look up a little.
- Now push your palms forward, you chin tucked in chest
- Pull your shoulder blades together, again arching the upper and lower back
- Repeat the stretch for a couple of time
If you have been sitting all day, you need to stretch the muscles around your calf area. Here’s what you need to do.
Steps to do the calf stretch
- Stand straight with your hands against the wall
- Bring one feet forward and the other back
- Keep your back leg straight
- Bend your front leg and make sure both the feet are firmly on the ground
- Bend your front knee to lean toward the wall.
- You must feel a gentle stretch in the calf of your back leg
- Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds
We spend a lot of time on our screens these days bending our neck in an uncomfortable posture for a long period of time. This workout is very important for removing the stiffness around the neck which can lead to persistent pains in future.
Steps to do neck roll
- Stand straight with feet slightly apart
- Arms must be placed comfortably at the sides
- Move your chin downwards towards the chest
- Gently start rolling your neck in clockwise motion with 1 rotation taking 5-7 seconds
- After a brief pause of few seconds, roll your neck in anti-clockwise motion
- Repeat the neck rolling 3-4 times
Shoulder muscles store a lot of stress and become stiff as we spend excessive time on screens or just go about our daily work routine. It is important to release this stress with a shoulder stretching routine. This is the simplest way to de-stress your shoulder muscles that you can do even while sitting if you do not have time.
Steps to do shoulder roll
- Stand straight with arms on either side.
- Raise both the shoulders together and then roll them back in a circular motion
- Roll the shoulders backward a couple of times and then reverse the movement, rolling them forward.
- Repeat the sequence a couple of times.
The Child’s pose helps in stretching back, shoulder, neck, buttocks etc. It is similar to fetal position and is extremely relaxing. It helps calm the central nervous system.
Steps to do child pose
- Start the pose by sitting on your heels
- Position your hips on your heels
- Your hands should be on the floor with palms facing up
- Bend forward and bring your forehead towards the floor
- Your thighs should gently press your chest
- Hold the position for a while
Hamstrings are the three muscles at the back of the thigh that helps in walking, running or jumping. When we sit constantly for longer periods of time, these muscles become tight. It is important to loosen them to avoid injury or pain. Here’s what you can do.
Steps to do Hamstring stretch
- Sit comfortably with one leg straight out in front of you.
- Place your other foot against the inner thigh of your straight leg.
- Keep your back straight, lean forward and reach for your toes.
- You must feel a stretch in the back of your extended leg.
- Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds
- Repeat on the other side
Tricep stretch helps strengthen your upper body as it helps in stretching muscles around shoulders and elbows. The stretch improves your flexibility and range of motion. It helps boost blood circulation around the area.
Steps to do Tricep stretch
- Sit on a chair and bring your left arm upward, with the elbow close to your head.
- Bend the left elbow so that the left hand is behind your neck.
- Hold your the left arm with the right hand pushing the left hand farther down the back.
- Hold for 10 seconds, then rest for 5 seconds.
- Repeat with the right arm.
- Do it with both the arms 2 more times
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The quadriceps are the muscles in front of your thigh and their mobility is important to carry out simple activities like standing, and supporting your knees while walking. A quadricep stretch is important to loosen muscles around kneed joint to prevent injury or pain.
One should not overdo this stretch or the muscles can tighten further.
How to do this stretch
- Stand straight and bend your right foot backwards to your butt
- Hold it there using your right hand
- Keep your knee pointing downward and your pelvis tucked under your hips during the stretch
- Hold for 30 seconds
- Repeat on the other side
- Do it for a couple of times till you feel the muscles around the area are loosened
Ankles muscles have this huge responsibility to bear the entire weight of a body and aids in performing activities like walking, jumping, running. One can easily get tired or is prone to ankle injury if muscles around the area are weak.
Steps to do ankle circle
- Stand with both feet apart
- Place the left foot firmly on the ground and raise the right heel raised so that the pressure is on the toes.
- Keep the toes on the ground and start moving the right foot in a circular clockwise direction.
- Wait for a few seconds and then move the right foot circular in anti-clockwise direction.
- Now bring the right foot down and raise the left foot this time and rotate it clockwise.
- After a gap of few seconds, rotate the left foot anti-clockwise.
- Do these circles for a couple of times.
Chest stretches are important as it is important for the correct posture. In absence of proper stretching you may suffer from a condition called kyphosis which is also known as hunch back.
Steps to do chest stretch
- Stand in an open doorway or between the space with two walls on either side
- Place your forearms vertically on the walls
- Bring your chest forward till you feel a light stretch
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the other side.
Easy Desk Stretches Infographic