You’ve done your workout? Now stretch!
by Matt Hodges
22 May 2015
Every good workout regime will begin and end with a few basic stretches to help you limber up and cool down. Flexibility is vital for anyone who is serious about health and fitness. Better flexibility means that you can work out harder and more effectively, without spending the following day in burning pain.
By stretching key muscles, such as the glutes, the hamstrings, the quads, calves, adductors and lower back, you are improving your flexibility and reducing the risk of injury and muscle damage.
Flexibility training, whilst as important and beneficial, feels totally different to cardio and strength training both during and post workout and requires patience and time to carry out. It’s often the component that gets overlooked in favour of those “endorphin releasing” workouts, becoming the rushed portion or the “forgotten man” of the workout schedule.
So why include stretching as a vital part of your weekly schedule?
Stretching lacks the glamour of other types of training, but the gains of regular flexibility workouts produce amazing short and long-term benefits for everyone when carried out regularly. Better flexibility is proven to improve your level of performance in physical activities. That 5k run time now has a much better chance of decreasing!
Flexibility training can also hugely decrease the risk of injury by helping your joints move through their full range of motion, enabling your muscles to work most effectively. Let’s face it – nobody enjoys being injured and having to spend time away from their favourite sporting activity or gym class, do they?
The ageing process wreaks havoc with natural levels of flexibility. Stretching enables you to take control and maintain that youthful flexibility. Luckily, stretching doesn’t just belong in the gym. The beauty of flexibility training is that it can be practiced anytime, anywhere: at your desk; in front of the TV; first thing in the morning; or just before you go to bed.
A total body stretching routine only needs to last between 10-15 minutes. When consistently performing stretching exercises 2-3 times a week for that time frame, improvements can be expected in a 3-4 week time period. Take a few minutes to learn these simple stretching moves and start working them into your daily routine. Your body will thank you!
For your glutes
Lie on your back and raise your legs in the air, knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Take your left foot and cross it over your right thigh. Holding your left knee, push your left leg until you feel a deep stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat with the other leg.
For your hamstrings
Stand with your feet together and then bend your knees slightly. Keep your right foot flat on the ground and straighten out your left leg in front of you, so that only your heel touches the ground. Place both hands on your left thigh and stretch back slightly until you feel the tension in the back of your left leg. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
For your quads
Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Bend your left leg behind you until your foot is in line with your hip. Hold it there with your hands, for about 30 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
For your calf muscles
Place both hands flat against a sturdy wall. Move your left leg behind and bend your right leg towards the wall – both feet should be flat on the ground, from heel to toe.
Pressing against the wall, bear down on your right leg until you feel a stretch in your left calf. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat with the other leg.
For your adductor muscles
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out as far as they will go in either direction. Bend your knees and bring your feet together, then hold them in place with your soles flat against each other. Slowly bear down on your bent knees until you can feel the stretch in your hip area. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat.
For your lower back
Lie flat on your back, then bring your knees up to your chest. Grab your knees to hold them in place, and lean in until you are curled up into a ball. Allow your body to rock back and forth, tightening your grip on your knees if you want to deepen the stretch.
My top tips for stretching
- Focus on the major muscle groups and the muscles you used most in your last workout.
- Hold your stretch for around 10-12 seconds.
- Don’t be tempted to “bounce” the stretch; just hold it!
- Aim for a stretch that feels good with no pain. Over stretching a muscle can increase the risk of injury.
- Consistency is the key! Regular flexibility training means that your range of movement will slowly increase, regardless of your age.