Friday, October 28, 2011

A guide to basic stretching

In all my years of training and observing people working out in the gym, I have often noticed that when it comes to stretching, people either overdo it or under do it, I unfortunately fall in the latter category. In general, young people tend to under do it, while those above 45 tend to spend more time on stretching and low intensity aerobics. Very rarely (excluding athletes) do I see someone who gives equal attention to stretching, strength training, cardio and is well balanced. In this post I would like to share a very basic static stretching routine that will cover the entire body, and one that will not take too long.




When to stretch
Ideally the best time to do static stretches is post workout. Do some light stretching after your warm up, and do a more extended stretching session after your workout as a cool down. One word of caution though, do not stretch a cold muscle. Get the muscle warmed up by doing some calisthenics before you do intense static stretching. This is also why I would not recommend any intense static stretching first thing in the morning.



Frequency
Would depend on your age and current flexibility. If you are young and not very tight, then I think 3-4 sessions a week would be sufficient. If on the other hand you are tight and inflexible, then daily stretching would be ideal.


How long to stretch
Hold the stretches for a minimum of 15-20 seconds for 1-2 rounds. As you get more flexible hold the stretch longer for a deeper stretch. And yes, please do stretch both sides equally.



Should the stretch hurt
No, it should not be painful. If the stretch is hurting then you have gone too far. Reduce the range, and build up slowly. Ideally stretch to the point where you can feel a light stretch which you can hold on for the time that you need to without ending up in pain.


One very important thing to keep in mind is to NEVER hold your breath when you are stretching, simply relax and breath freely. 

Basic stretches


Hamstring stretch


Sit on the ground and place your right foot out straight. Touch the heel of the left leg to your right knee. Bend forward and hold your toes/foot with both hands to stretch your hamstrings. If you cannot touch your toes/foot, then hold your shin, and progress further gradually. Repeat with the left foot.


Glutes stretch   



Lie on floor or mat. Bend left knee with right foot flat on floor. Cross left leg over the thigh of the right leg. Grasp the back of the thigh of the right leg with both hands. Pull leg towards torso. Repeat with the opposite leg.


Quadriceps stretch


Stand with left hand holding onto something stable for balance. Using your right hand grab your right foot and pull your heel in towards your buttocks. Keep your knees close during this stretch. If you do not feel a stretch in the front of the right hip and thigh, then pull your right knee further back behind the left knee. Repeat with the other foot.


Groin stretch


Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet touching. While holding your toes lean your upper body forward, bending from the hips. If you do not feel a stretch in your groin, try to keep your knees further down towards the floor and bring your heels closer to your seat.


Low back stretch



Lie on your back with your knees bent. Hug your shins and slowly pull your knees up to the chest until you feel a gentle stretch in your lower back.



Abdominal stretch



Lie on your stomach with the hands underneath the shoulders. The head and shoulders are gently pushed up with the arms. Keep the pelvis on the ground. The stretch should be felt in the front of the stomach.



Posterior Shoulder Stretch


Pretend you have an itch between your shoulder blades. Hold your right arm across your body and grab the back of your right elbow with your left hand. Pull the left elbow in as far as you can so that your right fingertips can reach your upper back. Repeat for the left shoulder.



Chest and front shoulder stretch



Grab a pole or a door at about shoulder height with the left arm straight. Turn to your right to feel the stretch. Repeat with the opposite side.

Triceps stretch



With your arms overhead, use your left hand to pull the right elbow behind your head. You should feel the stretch in your right triceps. Repeat with the other arm.



Wrist stretch











Keeping your right elbow straight, use your right hand to bend your left wrist backwards as far as you can until you feel a stretch in your wrist/forearm. Repeat with the other hand. Then bend your wrist in the opposite direction until you feel a stretch. Repeat with the other wrist.




Calf stretch



Put one foot out straight. Pull the toes backwards slowly till you feel a stretch in the calf muscles. If you cannot reach your toes, then use a towel to pull your foot back.


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