Flexibility

Admit it...most of us tack on a few half-hearted stretches at the end of our cardio session and call it a day. But, there are a number of reasons to make flexibility training a larger and more regular part of your fitness program.

Flexibility training will increase joint mobility, increase general range of motion, reduce injury, improve athletic performance and reduce muscle and joint pain.

Being more flexible can make it easier to perform daily tasks and can help prevent injuries around the house or work or during sports activities.

Think of flexibility training as its own specific component of your fitness program and not just an add-on. Set aside regular time for it.

You can and should stretch before and after exercise but it shouldn't be the only thing you do for a warm-up or cool-down.

Think about your lifestyle and activities and listen to your body. 

Do you sit at a desk most of your day? Play golf? Tennis? Do you hold tension in your shoulders or back?

Consider these things when planning a flexibility program.

As with any other part of your fitness program, variety is so important. Stretching on the floor next to the treadmill certainly works but other methods such as yoga, Pilates, or PNF stretching are a great way to increase flexibility and add interest to your program.

Types of Stretches


Passive

Passive stretching is assisted movement occuring in a relaxed state. You remain passive and relaxed and are moved into a stretched position often by a partner or assistive equipment.

Static

A static stretch is a stretched position held with no movement. The muscle is held in gentle tension. This is the most common type of stretching.

Dynamic

Dynamic stretching is actively moving through a range of motion. Its often used as part of a warm-up and is usually a combination of basic drills that mimic the activities you are about to do. For example, a golfer swinging their arms to warm-up for a golf swing.

Flexibility 101

  1. Do a cardio warm-up of 5-10 minutes. Cold muscles don't stretch well. A cardio warm-up is like preheating the oven.
  2. Gently lean into stretches keeping the motion smooth and controlled. Stretch just to the point of mild tension.
  3. Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds.
  4. Stretching before strenuous exercise will lengthen your muscles and increase your range of motion for the activities to come.
  5. Stretching after exercise will help your muscle recovery and repair. Strenuous exercise causes tiny tears in muscle tissue. Stronger tissue replaces or repairs the damaged tissue which makes your muscles stronger but can also cause Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Stretching after exercise will help reduce the chance of DOMS.
  6. It's important to assess your own situation. While you should stretch all major muscle groups on a regular basis, pay particular attention to your own needs rather than simply running through a generic list of stretches.

The book Stretching by Bob Anderson is an excellent, comprehensive resource for more information about flexibility.


Here are some basic stretches for all the major muscle groups to get you started.

Lateral Neck Stretch

In a standing position with shoulders relaxed and head straight, gently lean left ear toward left shoulder. You will feel a stretch in the right side of your neck. Return to center and repeat to right side.

Rotational Neck Stretch

Begin in a standing position looking straight ahead. Gently rotate your head to the left until your chin is pointing toward your shoulder. Be sure to keep your torso steady and facing forward. Return to center and repeat to the right side.

Shoulder Stretch

To begin, stand tall and keep your shoulders square and facing forward. Cross your right arm parallel across your upper chest. Use your left hand to apply gentle pressure on your elbow. You should feel the stretch in your right shoulder and upper back. Repeat on the left side.

Upper Back Stretch

Stretch your arms forward and clasp your hands together. Push your clasped hands away from you while rounding your shoulders and upper back forward. Focus on separating your shoulder blades.

Tricep Stretch

Stand with feet shoulder width apart for balance. Raise right arm straight overhead and bend your elbow so your lower arm drops behind your head. Keep your elbow at the side of your head. Apply gentle pressure on your elbow with your left hand. You should feel a stretch in the back of your right arm. Repeat on the left arm.

Forearm Stretch

Raise your right arm, palm up. With your left hand, apply gentle pressure bending your wrist down. You should feel the stretch in your wrist and forearm. Repeat on your left arm.

Chest Stretch

Stand with feet shoulder width apart for balance. Clasp hands behind your back and keeping your arms straight, lift them gently. Be sure to stay upright and avoid leaning over as you lift. You should feel a stretch across your chest and shoulders.

One-Arm Chest Stretch

Stand near a stationary object and lift your right arm to shoulder level. Brace your right hand against the stationary object and turn gently away from it. You should feel a stretch in the right shoulder and side of your chest. Repeat on the left side.

Kneeling Back Stretch

In a kneeling position, sit back on your heels. Lean forward over your legs and stretch your arms straight out in front of you. Drop your head gently between your arms. If this is hard on your knees, place a rolled up towel across your heels before sitting back.

Back "Cat" Stretch

Start by kneeling on hands and knees with your back flat. Gently pull your stomach in and up, arching your back.

Lying Back Stretch

Begin by lying flat with arms at your sides. Cross your right leg over your left and let your right knee drop toward the ground. You should feel a stretch in your hip and back. Be careful to keep your hips from rotating too far off the ground. Repeat on the left side.

Abdominal Stretch

Begin by lying on your stomach with arms shoulder width apart. Gently extend your elbows pressing your upper body up until you feel a stretch through your abdominal muscles.

Butt/Hip Stretch

Begin in a seated position with legs straight out in front of you. Cross your right leg over your left and, sitting tall, hug your right knee and pull it gently toward you. You should feel a stretch in your right hip. Repeat on the left side.

Hip Flexor Stretch

Begin by kneeling on your right knee with your left leg in front of you for support. Lean slightly forward on your left leg pushing your right hip forward. You should feel the stretch in the front of your right hip. Repeat on the left side.

Standing Quadriceps Stretch

Begin in a standing position. Hold a stationary object for balance if necessary. Lift your right leg behind you and grasp your ankle with your right hand. Gently pull your foot toward your butt without pulling your knee backwards. You should feel a stretch in your thigh. Repeat on the left leg.

Lying Quadriceps Stretch

Lying on your left side, bend your right leg behind you and grasp your ankle with your right hand. Gently pull your foot toward your butt keeping your right knee aligned over your left knee. Avoid letting your hip roll forward. Repeat on the left side.

Seated Hamstring Stretch

In a seated position, keep right leg extended straight and bend left leg up with knee out to the side. Stretch forward from your hips over your right leg. Use a rolled up towel or Dynamic Stretching Strap if this is difficult. Avoid rolling your shoulders forward. You should feel the stretch in the back of your right leg. Repeat on the left leg.

Lying Hamstring Stretch

Lying on your back, bend your left knee and extend your right leg straight in the air. Grasp behind your knee with your hands or use a rolled towel or stretching strap. Keeping your leg straight, pull it gently towards you. You should feel a stretch in the back of your leg. Repeat on the left leg.

Groin Stretch

In a seated position, bend knees and place soles of feet together. Let your knees fall open to the sides. Grasp your ankles and lean slightly forward from your hips. Press gently on the inside of your knees with your elbows.

Calf Stretch

Begin in a standing position with left foot forward and right foot back and toes pointing forward. Lean forward on your left knee keeping your right leg straight and press your right heel to the ground. You should feel a stretch in your right calve. Repeat on the left leg.