Get ready to Stretch
injury can be painful,
inconvenient, and ruin your exercise routine. Thankfully, though, there are ways
to keep your body in top condition at every workout. In addition to practicing
equipment safety, and proper form, you can significantly cut your risk of injury
by regularly stretching your
Stretching should never be done
immediately after resting for a long period. Rather, you want your muscles to be
warmed up before you begin. This increases blood flow to the muscles, which
makes them more flexible and less likely to experience strain. Some people also
believe this improved circulation can aid your overall health by increasing the
transportation of nutrients to cells.
So, add a few simple stretches mentioned below and start
today, and enjoy the rewards of what stretching can
do for your workouts.
Neck, Scalene and Upper Trapezius:
This stretch helps to re-align the
cervical spine and is good for
posture. It improves
breathing and alleviates
neck pain. Office workers constantly on computers can do this stretch five or
six times a day, and people who carry bags over one shoulder should also do it
Place a hand on the side of your
head and breathe in. The hand is used only as a guide and does not drive the
Activate the opposing scalene
muscles by flexing the neck to the side until you reach your barrier. Once your
barrier has been reached, gently pull and hold for two seconds while breathing
out, then return to neutral (the starting position). Repeat 10 times.
There are three scalene
muscles that move the neck in slightly different directions. Scalenes are
used in breathing but also stabilize the neck.
This stretch will help pull your
back into their rightful spot, reduce rounding of your shoulders and improve
your breathing. Your lungs get compressed if your shoulders are rounded; you
can't breathe in properly because your ribcage is also compressed. This stretch
will help bring your center of gravity back into alignment.
Breathe in and place your hands
in a position like you're under arrest.
Pull your shoulders back
and breathe out, extending the elbows and contracting the muscles in the back
(rhomboids, middle trapezius).
When you reach the end point, lift your shoulders at a 45 degree angle to target
minor. Hold for two seconds and release back to neutral. Repeat 10 times.
The pec minor
underneath the pec
major. The main action of the pec
minor is protraction of the shoulders.
Posterior Deltoid and Shoulder Capsule:
This stretch is more focused on the
shoulder capsule, the most mobile part of the body. A lot of people have
adhesions - sticky and gluey tissues in the shoulder capsule - which restrict
mobility. People who slouch, as well as tennis players, cricket bowlers and
baseball pitchers, will benefit greatly from this stretch.
Sitting down, take a deep breath.
Don't lean forward. Keep your back straight and tighten your stomach.
Breathe out, raise one arm above
your head to maximum range, pointing your fingers upwards, and bring the other
arm backwards to the maximum point as a counterbalance. The anterior deltoid is
the prime mover here. Hold for two seconds. Repeat 10 times on each side.
The long head of the
triceps also gets a stretch, as do the posterior deltoid and the gleno-humoral
(ball and socket) joints. This is a great warm-up for the connective tissue
around the joint, which is being supplied with lots of blood and nutrients.
Erector Spinae (back
The objective here is to lengthen the
spine, which helps to extend your back, giving you more of an upright stance.
This is one of the most important postural muscles; it keeps your back straight.
Most people are weak and tight in this area, and people who sit at desks all day
are particularly vulnerable. This stretch helps correct slouching.
Sitting up, hold the upper
abs (rectus abdominus).
Breathe in and lengthen through your spine. Relax your neck and shoulders.
Contract your abdominals,
which releases and relaxes the erector
spinae muscle group. Lean forward with a
straight back and grab hold of your ankles. Pull through to your barrier, hold
for two seconds, then release back to neutral. Repeat 10 times.
This stretch also works
into the sacro-spinalis
attachments in the lower lumbar region of the
lower back. It lengthens through
all three muscles (spinalis,
on each side of the erector spinae
muscles. This muscle group keeps you erect; if it's weak, you slump forward and
Upper Quadriceps (thigh):
This should be an integral part of
any daily stretching routine because it works what could be the most used muscle
in the body. This is what's called the proximal attachment of the rectus-femorus,
the second most important postural muscle, after the hip flexors. This stretch
will improve knee extension and improve your gait. It's also integral to
strength and power. It's essential to have strong but flexible
quads, which give you a solid base and are important in stabilizing your knees.
Sitting in a neutral position,
breathe in and lift your heel into your bottom. Keep your back straight and your
Extend the hip using the
hamstring and the gluteals
(buttock muscles), which are driving the movement; the hand is merely a guide.
When you reach your barrier, use your hand to pull through the barrier to the
point of light irritation. Hold for two seconds and release back to start.
Repeat 10 times.
The upper quad is generally
the tightest part of the thigh. You should feel the stretch at the AIIS (anterior
inferior iliac spine) attachment of the
femoris. You should ideally stretch your hip
flexor before doing this one.
Seated Bent Leg Hamstring:
hamstrings flex the knee and
extend the hip. They work synergistically with the gluteus maximus. This
stretch will improve your speed and make climbing stairs effortless. Tight
hamstrings slow the action of your quads, pulling you backwards like reins on a
horse. The vast majority of people who work out have weak hamstrings and gluteals
because they over-train their thighs and under-train their hamstrings.
Sitting down, hold your hamstring
just above the knee. Breathe in and contract your stomach.
The quadriceps extends the knee
and drives the motion. The hands are guides; move them below the knee to the
calf. Lock your knee, but don't hyperextend. When you get to the end of the
movement, use your hands to push slightly forward to the point of light
irritation. Hold two seconds and release. Repeat 10 times.
The biceps femoris and the
(inner and outer hamstrings) cross the knee joint at the least flexible
attachment point. There is a relationship between quad strength and hamstring
flexibility. People with weak quads have a harder time extending their
Psoas Major and Minor (hip flexor):
This is one of the most important
stretches you can do for lower back flexibility and general mobility. It's also
very beneficial for playing sports because it opens your stride and makes
movement more efficient. The
hip flexor is considered the body's number one posture muscle.
Rest one knee on a cushion. Your
back should be straight and your stomach tight, with your pelvis in a neutral
position. Place one hand on your hip and the other on your knee. With shoulders
and arms relaxed, take a deep breath.
The driving force of this
stretch is the opposing muscle in the gluteus maximus.
Tighten your buttocks to extend your hip and push forward from your hips. Keep
your hand passive until your reach your barrier, then use it to push through to
a point of light irritation. Hold for two seconds and return to neutral. Repeat
10 times. It's important to not allow the knee to go over the front of the foot
to avoid straining the patella ligament (where the quads are attached just below
The effects of stretching
the hip flexor run from the upper thigh into the anterior lower lumbar
attachments. Interestingly, not everyone has a psoas minor.
The only way to know is to have an MRI.
The spine contains your central
nervous system, in a small hollow column called the dural tube.
This little passageway goes all the way through your spine. Each of the 24
vertebrae need to move independently to create optimal motion. This rotational
movement is one of the most important stretches for sports, particularly for
golfers, batsmen or throwers. People who have weak backs due to prolonged
sitting should do this stretch daily.
Sitting down, keep your back
straight. Cross one leg over the other. Relax your spine, using your palms as
balance to help keep it straight. Breathe in deeply. The objective is to achieve
elongation and rotation of the spine.
Breathing out, rotate your spine
to your maximum position, putting your arm against your knee for leverage. The
back hand is a second lever. Rotate your head and try to look over your
shoulder. Hold for to seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat 10
While one side of the
(back extensors) is being stretched, the other side is contracting, driving the
movement. You can feel this stretch from the bottom of your spine all the way
through to the base of your neck. The rotators and the multifidus (the
little muscles that rotate and flex each vertebra) also get stretched. This
stimulates the synovial
fluids that lubricate the joints.
Internal Obliques (sides
of upper body):
This stretch opens the internal
and is useful for sports people, or for any lateral lunging
movements. People who do a lot of sitting in offices often favor one buttock,
which tends to lock the hips in an upward position. If you carry a suitcase and
lean to one side, it will tilt and compress your obliques.
Symmetry is essential. If your pelvis is misaligned, all your vital organs will
be as well. If one side is high and the other low, your kidney gets crunched. So
this stretch offers relief for your vital organs.
Standing, breathe in and
side-bend as far as you can.
Breathe out and extend the
opposite arm upwards. Look up at your pointed fingers for deeper movement.
This is a slightly advanced
movement for those with sufficient
flexibility. Lean across at 45 degrees to
finish off the motion. The internal obliques
range from the top of the hip to the 12th
Outside Lateral Gluteus Maximus
This muscle group is used mainly to
enhance speed. When you're running and your leg is straight, it is powering and
pushing off. The most important advantage of this stretch is that it works one
of the muscle groups that help strengthen the pelvis. It's also good for keeping
the back in alignment. If the pelvis is out of alignment, spinal mobility will
be affected. When you lie on your back, 50% of your
weight is taken off your
Lying on your back, raise your
knee to 90 degrees and externally rotate your thigh by turning your foot in.
The muscles driving this action
are the quads and hip flexors. Put one hand on your knee and one on your ankle.
Move your knee to the opposite shoulder. Breathe out, hold for two seconds,
release back to start. Repeat 10 times.
This stretch will increase the
stability of your upper leg and the mobility of your hip extension.
Believe it or not,
stretching is not as simple as it may seem. So, before you institute a
stretching regimen, be sure you understand the different kinds of stretches.
Content credit: Stretch your Life by Tim Noonan & Chris Watts. I personally
admire the way authors have clearly indicated the exercises along with
demonstrations, leaving less home for error and mistakes.
Dated 29 August 2013