Blog written by VYBE.
One of the best ways to improve your fitness is by starting a stretching routine. Many people, even those who work out regularly, don't fully understand the importance and benefits of stretching and don't stretch their muscles as a result. Often, the only time they do stretch is after suffering from tight muscles, tension headaches, or an injury. But a regular stretching routine cannot only greatly mitigate the risk of injury, but it can also help improve your overall health and fitness, physical performance, and even your mental health and wellness.
Should You Do a Stretching Routine Each Day?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion recommends that to maintain your health and fitness and to mitigate the risk of serious disease, you should perform:
- At least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or at least 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity per week;
- Moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening exercise two days per week;
- Reduce the time you spend sitting, and
- Gradually increase your activity levels over time.
Whether you're hitting these targets or not, stretching is the perfect supplement to these recommendations. In fact, the time you spend doing most stretches is less time spent sitting. And while yoga is not generally thought to count towards the aerobic activity goal, it does count as a muscle strengthening exercise.
Moreover, stretching each day not only helps you reaffirm and strengthen your commitment to fitness but also provides a host of health benefits that will help you remain healthy over the long term.
The Benefits of Stretching Each Day
When you stretch each day, you improve your overall flexibility. Not only can stretching make exercising and other routine physical activities easier, but it can also delay the negative effects of aging on your mobility. Further, greater flexibility helps mitigate your risk of exercise-related injuries.
Daily stretching can also increase your range of motion and improve your performance in physical activities. Dynamic stretches before an athletic event or workout, in particular, can help boost your performance, but regular stretching can improve your overall flexibility and range of motion, which can contribute to improved performance.
Regular stretching increases blood flow to your muscles, improving your circulation and recovery time and reducing muscle soreness. Along with regular exercise and a healthy diet, daily stretching can help mitigate your risk of developing circulatory problems or cardiovascular disease.
Many people suffer from back pain and other forms of musculoskeletal pain. This pain usually stems from muscle imbalances, such as those caused by poor posture, and daily stretching and exercise can be greatly alleviated. Further, your range of motion decreases when your muscles are tight, putting greater stress on your back. But stretching can strengthen your back muscles, allowing them to shoulder the load without resulting in pain or injury.
Emotional stress has real physical consequences for our bodies, including tightened muscles and tension headaches. But by stretching the muscles most likely to tense from stress - our neck, upper back, and shoulders, we can alleviate the stress-induced muscle tension and experience some relief. Moreover, when we pair daily stretching with wellness techniques like mindfulness and meditation, we can reduce our general stress and anxiety levels.
Different Types of Stretches
If you're new to stretching, the image that may come to mind is the series of contortions you perform while rousing yourself out of bed. And while that is stretching, when we talk about a routine, we consider and incorporate several different types of stretches. The two most common are known as static and dynamic stretches. Static stretches involve holding a position for between 10 and 30 seconds, while dynamic stretches involve active motion, in which your body may switch positions at one or multiple points throughout the stretch.
Either static or dynamic stretching can each be further categorized as either active or passive stretching. Active stretching involves you stretching your muscles, while passive stretching involves an outside force, such as a resistance band or a workout buddy, creating the force needed to stretch your muscles.
Among other different types of stretches is ballistic stretching, which leverages bouncing motions to extend your muscles quickly beyond your natural range of motion. Ballistic stretching is commonly performed by athletes, dancers, and others looking to leverage stretching to help improve physical performance. Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (or PNF) stretching is another set of stretching techniques that push a muscle to its limit. When starting stretching routines that involve either ballistic stretching or PNF techniques, it's a good idea to consult with your primary care provider first, especially if you have mobility issues or other related health challenges.
An Easy 10 Minute Stretching Routine, Step-by-Step
To get the most out of your stretching routine, you want to stretch muscles throughout your body. Yoga, along with advanced stretching programs, can help you hit every muscle group, but these routines can take 30 to 60 minutes or longer to complete. Moreover, to hit each muscle group thoroughly, you'll likely need to vary your routine multiple times throughout the week.
But we know that most people lack the time or the patience to memorize and practice various upper body and lower body routines each day. Even many of the people you see showing up at the gym faithfully each day may be (foolishly) forgoing stretching entirely. Regardless of fitness level, many people need a relatively quick routine that can help warm up the body, protect key muscles and joints, and improve flexibility. Here's a simple ten-minute routine that you can do, regardless of fitness level:
Standing Chest Opener
- Face the corner of your room. Press your palms against each wall as you stand with your feet staggered, and your elbows bent at shoulder height.
- Lean inward towards the wall, chest forward, until you feel the muscles in your chest stretch.
- Hold the position such that you continue to feel your chest muscles stretch for 30 seconds. Repeat three times.
Calf Stretch Against the Wall
- Stand against one wall, one foot several inches in front of the other, with the front foot's toes against the wall.
- Move your front foot forward such that the toes are at least a couple of inches off the ground and that your foot forms a right triangle with the floor and the wall.
- Lean against the wall without bending your back leg. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat three times. Do the same with the other leg.
- Stand or sit up straight on the ground.
- Place your hands above your head, then interlock your fingers. Stretch your arms as far as they can go.
- Bend your pelvis towards one side until you feel the muscles and side stretch.
- Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds, then move your arms above your head. Repeat three times, then repeat the exercise on the other side.
- Sit on the ground with your legs outstretched, forming a V.
- Lean forward slowly with your arms outstretched. Try to get your chest as close to the floor as you can go.
- Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds, then gradually move back into an upright position. Repeat three times.
- Lie on your beck, legs together.
- Press your feet into the floor, raising your pelvis off the floor. Stop only when your body is straight from your shoulders to your knees. Your knees and feet should be aligned.
- Hold the position for 10 to 30 seconds before lowering your body back down. Repeat three times.
- Lie on your back with both legs flat on the ground.
- Lift one leg off the ground until its heel faces the ceiling.
- Keep your leg straight, and with both hands clasping your thigh, pull your leg as close to your chest as possible.
- Hold the position for 30 seconds, then lower your leg to the ground. Repeat three times, then switch legs.
Getting Started With Your Daily Stretching Routine
Whether you try these or other different types of stretches, the important thing is to make sure you are stretching daily. Incorporating a daily stretching routine into your fitness plan has many health and wellness benefits, including mitigating the risk of severe muscle soreness and injury. And given the many different types of stretches, a routine can be designed to fit your time, equipment, and space constraints.
Best of all, most stretches don't require anything special to get started and can be done by people at any fitness level. The most critical thing about a stretching routine is to get started. As you stretch and read more about your muscles and fitness, you'll undoubtedly find new stretching activities to try. Start with the ten-minute routine above and put yourself on the road to a healthier you today.