Read these 17 Stretching Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Exercise tips and hundreds of other topics.
Muscle stretching shouldn't be your starting warmup. Warm up first with a few minutes of walking, cycling, etc., then stretch. You can also do stretching exercises at the end of your cardio workout. Stretching cold muscles can cause injuries. There is also some research indicating that a lot of stretching can cause a short-term dip in muscle strength, so for weight training, save your serious stretching for after the workout.
For a good hamstring stretch, lie on your back on the floor. Leave one leg extended on the floor and raise the other, knee straight, until you feel the stretch in your hamstring. Loop a towel around your leg and hold the ends in your hands to make it easier.
Again, remember to always warm up well before stretching!
Forget all your grade school fears--standing in a corner is one of the best stretching exercises. Stand facing a corner with one hand on each wall, about chin level. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders. Repeat this muscle stretching technique for flexibility.
Got a pain in the neck? Muscle stretching can help. Maintain your ability to look behind you by keeping your neck flexible through neck stretching exercises. Turn your head as far as you can so your chin is over your shoulder, or close, then hold for 20 seconds. Repeat the stretch on the other side. Don't hold your breath.
Your mother was right: Work to achieve good posture. You can stretch to improve your posture. From the side, your ear should line up with the tip of your shoulder, your hip joint, the back of your knee (don't lock out your knees when standing), and the front of the protruding bone on your ankle. Stretching exercises in front of a mirror will help.
Give those calves the muscle stretching of their life! You should stretch your calves two ways with two different stretching exercises.
First is the usual way where you lean against a wall, step back with the leg to be stretched, knee straight, then keep your heel down and push your hips forward until you feel the stretching in your calf.
Second, keep the same position but bend your knee, which will give a better stretch to the soleus muscle and the achilles' tendon.
Got a cramp? Loosen up and relax. Try stretching out a muscle cramp. For instance, for the calf cramp, or "charley horse," pull your toes up toward your shin in an opposing stretch. The calf muscle pulls the foot down, so you want to do muscle stretching and stretching exercises in the opposite direction to offset a cramp.
Sometimes less really is more and you can over-stretch yourself.
More flexibility and more stretching are not always better. Work to attain and maintain normal flexibility, unless you need more for your sport or activity. You do not need the flexibility of a gymnast, diver, or ice skater if you are a runner, cyclist, or fitness exerciser.
Also, no matter how much you stretch, flexibility is partially genetic. You probably know if you have the potential to excel in a sport that requires great flexibility. Yes, you can probably improve the range of your karate kicks with some stretching exercises, but stretching through pain can lead to joint laxity and possible injury. So don't overdo it.
PNF (Proprioceptive Neural Facilitation) has a number of therapeutic applications, but you can incorporate it into your own stretching program and stretching exercises. Do your stretch, tense or contract the target muscle, then finally relax and extend your stretch.
For example, to stretch your hamstrings from the common inside hurdler's stretch, sit on the floor with your right leg extended and the sole of your left foot against your right inner thigh. Keeping your back straight, reach toward your right foot until you feel the stretching. Pause and contract your right hamstring as though you were pushing your heel into the floor, relax your leg completely and reach a little further toward your foot. You'll find you can get another inch or so out of muscle stretching with this technique.
Stretch the band, the iliotibial band, that is. The iliotibial band runs on the outside of the thigh from the hip to the knee. When it is irritated, pain is usually felt at the knee. Runners, cyclists, skiers, and aerobic exercisers should stretch it to prevent injury. To get a good stretch of the IT band of the right leg, cross the leg behind your left leg while standing and lean sideways to the left for thorough IT muscle stretching.
You don't have to do just stretching exercises if you want to be limber and flexible. Yoga is a great way to increase flexibility as well as total-body strength and balance. You have a choice of various yoga styles. You can do classical hatha yoga, or try modern variations like power yoga or yoga booty ballet.
Find a doorway and put your arms straight up in the air. Now, walk to the doorway and make sure that your arms will hit the top of the doorway. While keeping arms straight, try and walk through the door. As you can imagine, you probably will have difficulty. The idea is to get your arms staright up and then to try and stretch them back behind you. This will poen up the musculature in your chest and shoulders, allowing your back to strengthen when you exercise. This will also help with your standing posture, so go try it and and hold those shoulders back!
If you belong to a gym, are involved in yoga or are addicted to foam you may have heard of Self Myofascial Release, which is a great way to stretch out your muscles (more specifically fascia). It is done by grabbing a foam roller (a long foam tube formed into a pipe-like shape), which most exercise facilities have now, and placing it on parts of the body that have lack of motion, the inability for the body to go/stay in anatomical neutral (a 'tip' for another time), or just bother you.
The most common area to 'foam roll' is the lower body. It is done by applying simple body weight onto the foam roller in the area where you desire to stretch. If you have seen this done before, I am sure you have seen people that roll back and forth on a spot to supposedly stretch. That is not the correct way to do it. When you foam roll, you are trying to find spots that hurt when the foam roller is below them, and then hold there until the pain subsides (no, I am not twisted and sadistic, try it). It is finding spots where your fascia has bonded to other fascia and is 'tight', and relieving those spots, which usually ends up hurting a good amount. Always perform Self Myofascial Release slowly. Here is what happens in your body when you foam roll...
You have thousands of muscle fibers in each muscle group in your body. When you lose range of motion or you are tight in certain areas of your body, you have what is commonly known as a 'knot'. Literally the muscle fibers get knotted up, begin to spasm and stop functioning properly. While that is occuring scar tissue begins to form around the spasming muscle fibers, which then become dormant and stop functioning with the rest of the crew. You also lose the ability to burn the calories/use the energy that those muscle fibers could be utilizing.
What foam rolling does is it relieves those muscle fibers of the 'knots'. Apply pressure to those spasming muscle fibers, and when held there it will generally produce discomfort in that area. As the foam roller is held for at least 30 seconds (up to 2 minutes) the spasming muscle fibers begin to loosen up as the scar tissue slowly breaks away from the spasming muscle fibers. The pain should then reduce significantly since the scar tissue has broken away from the muscle fibers, and then the 'Golgi Tendon Organ' (look it up) in each individual muscle fiber tells those fibers to relax, bringing them back into the game along with the rest of the muscle fibers of that muscle group.
Foam rolling increases range of motion, allows you to work harder, burn more calories, get/use more energy, get into shape quicker, move more efficiently...it does much good. Just make sure you drink water immediately after so that you don't get dehydrated. If you have more questions about this, please ask.
Sidenote - this was a hefty explanantion; if anyone out there believes I am anatomically wrong then write an explanation of 'why' equally as hefty. Thanks.
You have a balanced diet, and now balanced stretching. Stretch the muscles on both sides of the body so your body doesn't have to compensate.
For instance, stretch both the quads and hamstrings (front and back of the thigh) so they will be equally flexible. If your hamstrings are already flexible, and you can put your nose on your knee, but your quads are a bit tight, you don't need to spend much time on the hams. But you do need to work on your quads with stretching exercises.
If you have walked into a gym recently or been outside and looked at people, you may have noticed a current trend of 'Rounded Shoulders'. This looks like someone who wants to be a football player, and it seems that they no longer have a neck while being a bit hunched over. This is caused by gym-attendees over-exercising their chest and shoulders while forgetting their back (or exercising it improperly), or for non gym-attendees who have bad spinal posture. Here is an effective stretch that can be done anywhere.
To start, lay down on your back so that the whole body is on the ground looking up at the ceiling/sky. Extend the arms out straight to the sides of the body so that they are perpendicular to the torso and parallel with one another at shoulder height while still on the ground. Next, bend your elbows so that your forearms come off the ground pointing straight up to the ceiling/sky leaving your upper arm firmly pressed still against the ground. Now, while keeping the upper arm and elbow firmly against the ground, slowly rotate the shoulders back while bringing the bent arms down to the floor (close to the sides of the head), keeping the 90degree bend in the elbow. Do your best to bring them all the way to the floor so that the entire arm and hand is against the floor, and hold.
This will loosen up your chest and shoulders, improve your ability to rotate at the shoulder, open up your back flexibility and slowly improve your spinal posture. What a winner.
Don't stay still during stretching exercises, get up and move! Static stretching is effective for general flexibility but may not be sufficient for athletes, because it is not sports-specific. Dynamic muscle stretching is more effective but requires a partner and some base knowledge.