Flexibility exercises are an important part of your physical activity program because building flexibility leads to many benefits.
One of the largest benefits of building your flexibility is more freedom of movement for your physical activities, and for everyday activities such as getting dressed and reaching objects on a shelf.
If you find that you have tense or sore muscles, stretching might just be the solution. This is because building flexibility can provide relief to those tough muscles.
Our first healthy habit for this month is to take a mid-day stretch each day. This will help your muscles stay relaxed and can give you a break in the middle of your tasks.
There are two types of stretching covered in this post and three exercises for each type. Any of these exercises are great options for your midday stretch.
The first type is called static stretching. This form of stretching is probably what you think of first when stretching comes to mind.
To complete static stretches, you want to slowly stretch into the desired position, as far as you can without pain, and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
Relax, breathe, and then repeat.
Remember to never “bounce” into a stretch. Make slow, steady movements instead. Jerking into position can cause muscles to tighten, possibly causing injury.
Avoid “locking” your joints. Straighten your arms and legs when you stretch them, but don’t hold them tightly in a straight position. Your joints should always be slightly bent while stretching.
You will want to do each desired stretch three to five times to elongate your muscle.
The following three examples are great static stretches.
Examples of Static Stretching
Shoulder and Upper Arm
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Hold one end of a towel in your right hand. Raise and bend your right arm to drape the towel down your back. Keep your right arm in this position and continue holding on to the towel. Reach behind your lower back and grasp the towel with your left hand. To stretch your right shoulder, pull the towel down with your left hand. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort in your right shoulder. Repeat at least 3-5 times. Reverse positions and repeat at least 3-5 times.
You can do this stretch while standing or sitting in a sturdy, armless chair. Keep your feet flat on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Hold arms to your sides at shoulder height, with palms facing forward. Slowly move your arms back, while squeezing your shoulder blades together. Stop when you feel a stretch or slight discomfort. Hold the position for 10-30 seconds. Repeat at least 3-5 times.
Sit securely toward the edge of a sturdy, armless chair. Stretch your legs out in front of you. With your heels on the floor, bend your ankles to point toes toward you. Hold the position for 10-30 seconds. Bend ankles to point toes away from you and hold for 10-30 seconds. Repeat at least 3-5 times.
Now that we have covered static stretching, the second type of stretching is dynamic stretching.
Dynamic stretching is what you want to do before a workout, because these are the stretches that reduce your risk of injury.
To do a dynamic stretching routine, look to the movements you’re preparing for in whatever exercise or sport you’re performing. For example, runners may do hip circles, lunges, and leg pendulums. Swimmers may do shoulder rolls and arm circles.
Examples of Dynamic Stretching
Let’s take a look at some dynamic stretches.
Stand on one leg, using a countertop for support, and gently swing the opposite leg in circles out to the side. Do 20 circles in each direction. Switch legs. Progressively increase the size of the circles as you become more flexible.
Stand with arms outstretched forward, parallel to the floor with palms facing down. As you step forward, swing your arms in unison to the right so your left arm is in front of your chest and fingers point to the right. Keep torso and head facing forward; move only at the shoulders. Swing arms in the opposite direction as you step again. Repeat five times on each side.
Stand with your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart. Step forward with the left leg and raise the right knee high toward your chest (use a wall for balance, if needed). Use both hands (or one, if using the other for balance) to pull the knee up farther. Pause and lower right leg, then repeat on the other side. Continue “high-stepping” five times on each leg as you walk forward.
Now, we have covered both static and dynamic stretching.
Remember, talk with your doctor if you are unsure about a particular exercise. For example, if you’ve had hip or back surgery, talk with your doctor before doing lower-body exercises.