Essential Stretches You Should do Every Day
Daily fitness is important for overall health, but fitness isn’t limited to just exercise. Muscle recovery and flexibility are just as important and stretching can help with both. While many people think of stretching as a thing to do for a few minutes after a workout, you can use it to your benefit at any time. A stretching routine can be done as a standalone workout session or incorporated as small sessions throughout the day for stress relief.
The benefits go beyond flexibility, yet stretching is one of the most ignored aspects of fitness. When you skip stretching, you miss important health benefits like increased blood flow, muscle balance to improve physical performance and increased range of motion to help you avoid injury in any activity. Check out these essential stretches you can do every day for healthy, happy muscles.
Reach and Side Stretch
This is a great opening stretch to lengthen the spine and loosen muscles around the rib cage. These muscles often get crunched up when sleeping or working at a desk and are used in many full body exercise movements. Unfortunately, they are the most ignored when it comes to recovery. Luckily, this stretch is easy to perform anywhere, and many people find it feels good, too. And since many people tense their back and don’t breathe deeply, this stretch can relax the back and promote deeper breathing resulting in stress relief.
1. Start by standing up tall with feet apart at hip width, with your arms down at your side.
2. Slowly raise arms straight up to the ceiling and slowly reach upward as if trying to touch the ceiling with alternating hands. Reach for five times each side as you attempt to keep your shoulders relaxed and feel the stretch through your entire torso.
3. After reaching five times each side, use one hand to lightly hold the fingers of the other hand and then reach and stretch to one side as far as you can while keeping your spine aligned. Hold for about 20 seconds and slowly lean to the other side and hold. Go back and forth three or four times.
Bend Forward Back Stretch
This continues the stretch throughout the torso with a focus on the back. Be careful to move slowly and do not overextend yourself.
1. Begin in the same standing position as above and slowly lean forward allowing your arms to gently slide down the front of your legs. Slightly bend your knees as you fold forward, if needed (you should feel the stretch in your back, not your hamstring muscles).
2. When you are bent as much as you can at the hips, allow your upper body to loosely dangle from the hips and feel your back elongating, with your knees slightly bent. Your arms should be gently resting on your shins or on the floor if you can touch it.
3. Hold this position until you feel your back is stretched, about 30 – 60 seconds, then slowly raise back up to a standing position.
Sitting Hamstring Stretch
1. Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you and feet together
2. Slowly bend forward beginning with your hands on your thighs, fingers pointing at each other.
3. Allow your hands to slide down your legs until you feel a slight pull or stretch in the back of your legs and hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds. Your hands should still be pointing at each other with your elbows pointed outward, to help open up your back muscles.
4. Next, split your legs apart so they form a “V”
5. Slowly reach to your left foot and lower your head toward your knee, only lowering until you feel a mild stretch in your groin, hamstring and back. Repeat to the other side and then to the middle holding each position for 20 – 30 seconds.
Glute Stretch and Hips Stretch
This move is intended to stretch the muscles deep within the buttocks as well as the hips and lower back. Consistency is key as this stretch can help some people avoid piriformis syndrome; a condition in which tight muscles in the buttocks area can irritate the sciatic nerve.
1. Lying on your back, bend both legs, keeping your feet flat on the floor.
2. Slowly lift your left leg and rest the ankle on your right knee, so that the left knee is pointing outward while the foot of your resting leg remains flat on the floor.
3. Use both hands to gently hold the thigh of the left leg and simultaneously very slowly lift your head and right foot off the floor, moving toward each other.
4. You should feel the stretch in your left buttock. When you feel a very gentle stretch, hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat to the other side.
Lying Quadricep Stretch
1. Lie flat on your back and slowly roll to your left side with your head resting on your left hand or arm. (You can bend your elbow to support your head with your hand or keep your arm straight and rest your head on your outstretched arm.)
2. Bend your right (upper) leg and grab your ankle with your right hand and slowly pull your leg back until you feel a pull in your right quadricep, hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Straight Leg Strap Pull
This stretch is extra credit and especially good for those with tight hips. It helps stretch the hamstrings and the inside of the thigh while opening up the hip carriage. This can help you avoid future problems in the hip, buttocks and leg muscles due to overuse or tight muscles. You will need either an exercise strap, belt or a long towel or piece of cloth.
1. Lie on your back with both legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
2. Lift your right leg and while holding each end of the strap (or towel), loop it around the sole of the right foot.
3. While holding each end of the strap with your hands, slowly straighten your leg to reach a 90-degree angle from the floor, with your foot solid in the strap as the left leg remains extended straight on the floor. Push your foot against the strap to straighten your leg as much as you can (if you cannot straighten without pain, then only go as far as you can and hold it there). You should feel the stretch in the back of your right leg. Hold this stretch for about 20-30 seconds.
4. Slowly move the strapped foot outward to your right side, using the strap to control the movement without overextending yourself, and hold for about 20 seconds.
5. Slowly bring your leg back to center and move it the other direction, so that it is crossing over the other leg and hold for 20 seconds.
6. Bring your right leg back to center and slowly lower it to the floor and repeat with the other side.
Stay flexible and fit by incorporating a stretching routine into your daily fitness plan. Use it after a workout to relax tired muscles and do a full body stretch routine once a week during a recovery day. Maintaining flexibility will not only enhance muscle development, but will help you avoid injury and improve your overall quality of life.