Prolonged sitting may result in tight hamstrings and make it hard for individuals to straighten their knees all the way or extend their legs. In addition to inhibiting walking, tight muscles can also lead to injuries during strenuous activities like exercise and sports. Oftentimes, injured muscles do not have the strength or flexibility to support certain joints, potentially leading to more problems in the long run.
Benefits of Having a Stretching Routine
Regular stretching is recommended to keep muscles healthy, strong, and flexible. Flexibility is important because it helps people maintain a range of motion in the joints. Other key benefits of stretching include:
- Decreased tension and stress-induced headaches
- Calming the mind
- Relieving stress
- Healing and preventing back pain
- Improved posture
- Increased blood flow to muscles
- Improved performance in sports and other physical activities
- Increased range of motion
- Better recovery from sports injuries
Are You New to Stretching?
If you’re new to stretching, it’s important to start slowly. Just like other forms of physical activity, the body requires time to get acclimate to stretching. The two most common forms of stretches are dynamic and static:
- Dynamic stretches are active movements that are not held. These stretches are typically done before exercise to get muscles ready for movement.
- Static stretches involve holding a stretch or position for an extended period of time (10 to 30 seconds). These stretches are typically done after exercise.
Cold muscles are less pliable than warmed up muscles, so it’s best to do some light cardio or movement before stretching. Five to 10 minutes of jogging, jumping jacks, or any other similar movement is a great way to get the blood flowing. A good time to stretch is after a workout. While it is normal to feel some tension when stretching, avoid pushing yourself beyond the point of comfort. Stretching may be uncomfortable but should not be painful.
Simple Stretches to Try at Home
Now that you are familiar with the basic safety guidelines of stretching, here are some common stretches you can do at home:
- Quadriceps Stretch
Stand on your right leg with one knee touching the other. Grab your left foot with the left hand and pull it towards your butt. Hold position for 20 to 30 seconds before switching sides.
- Hamstring Stretch
This stretch is designed to keep the back of your thigh flexible. Sit on the floor with your legs outstretched in front of you. Slowly fold forward, reaching for your toes. Go a far as you can without pain and hold for 30 seconds.
- Hip Flexor Stretch
With your knees bent, kneel on one knee and place the other foot flat on the floor in front of you. Lean forward to stretch your hip toward the floor. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds to two minutes before switching sides.
- Calf Stretch
Stand near a wall with one foot in front of the other. Place both hands on the wall for support and slightly bend the front knee. Keep your back knee straight with the heel on the ground and lean toward the wall. You should feel the stretch all along the calf of the back leg. Hold this calf stretch for up to 30 seconds.
Lower Back Stretches:
- Cobra Stretch
Lie face down on the floor with your hands directly underneath the shoulders. Tuck your elbows in close to the body. Then straighten your arms to lift your body off the floor. Take a deep breath in and slightly tilt your head back. Lift your upper body through the sternum while squeezing the scapula together. Return to the starting position while slowly exhaling. You can hold the upward facing position for 30 seconds.
- Cat-Camel Back Stretch
This is a spine-friendly stretch that involves arching and rounding your back. Set yourself up on all fours with your wrists directly underneath your shoulders and knees directly underneath your hips. Alternate between both movements. One cycle will take three to four seconds. You may repeat this stretch up to six times.
Remember that occasional stretching will not result in perfect flexibility, but consistent stretching can lead to improved flexibility over time. If you experience severe pain, stop your stretching routine and consult with a qualified physical therapist.