Step by step
Now that the new year is here, how would you like to experience renewed energy and perhaps even feel a little younger? One of the most effective ways to do that would be to introduce daily stretching into your life. Stretching can be an amazing instant energizer, yet despite its many merits, it’s the most neglected component of fitness.
Flexibility exercises will give you the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion, preventing muscles from becoming shortened and tight, making exercise and everyday activities much easier to perform. But if you ignore the value of stretching, that mobility will be limited as you age, because joints tend to become less flexible. While heredity dictates joint structure, flexibility training has an effect on muscle elasticity.
Stretching the chest, back and other tight muscles can help counteract poor posture, which can be caused by sitting for long periods of time, working at the computer or standing for extended periods of time with slumped shoulders and can lead to aches and pains. Tight pectoral muscles can pull shoulders forward, giving you that rounded shoulder effect. To combat this, perform an easy chest stretch and back strengthener by clasping your hands with arms stretched out behind your back and gently pressing your chest forward with your shoulders back and down.
Long bouts of sitting or working long hours at a desk can tighten the gluteals and shorten the hip flexors, affecting posture. Because the gluteal muscles are connected to several other muscles, you can also feel tightness and pain in the legs, lower back and hips. (See exercises at right for help with that.) Need more reasons to add stretching to your routine? It improves balance, which helps to prevent falls, and relieves stress.
Always warm up cold muscles with mild movements such as knee lifts, hamstring curls or leg swings. Those moves get the blood circulating and help to increase range of motion.
Focus your stretching on muscle groups such as the thighs, calves, hips, lower back, chest, neck and shoulders.
Balance the stretching by stretching opposing muscle groups. For example, if you are stretching the back of the legs, also stretch the front of the legs. Hold your stretch for 10 to 30 seconds.
Do not limit your stretching to the gym. Stretch throughout the day.
Use it or lose it. If you skip the stretching, you will lose the gains you have just made.
Pay attention to pain. You shouldn’t feel any, just mild tension.
Don’t bounce into the stretch. Bouncing can cause tightness.
Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program. Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but can’t respond to individual inquiries.
Contact her at slafit@tampabay.
demonstrated by Maribel Perez
Pretzel stretch on floor: Stretches the hips, glutes, lower back and hamstrings. Lying on your back, bend both your knees, keeping your lower legs parallel to the ground.
Cross one leg over the other and rest your ankle near the opposite knee.
Holding your hands under the thigh of your uncrossed leg, bring your leg toward your chest until you feel a good stretch in your glutes.
Hold 10 to 15 seconds, change legs and repeat the stretch.
Follow the pattern three or four times.
Wall angel: Stretches the chest muscles and strengthens shoulders and back muscles.
Stand tall with your feet about 4 inches from a wall, hips, spine, shoulder blades and head against the wall, contracting your abdominals.
With your knees sightly relaxed, bend your arms from the elbows, placing the backs of your forearms and hands against the wall, shoulder height. Your upper arms will be parallel to the floor.
Keeping your elbows, backs of forearms and hands against the wall, slowly slide your arms and hands upward. Hold for several seconds, then slowly lower arms and hands to shoulder level, keeping them in contact with the wall.
Repeat several times, building to eight to 10 times.
Tips: Avoid shrugging your shoulders. In the beginning, if your arms and hands cannot make contact with the wall, perform the same movement without touching it.
Standing gluteal stretch: Targets the glutes and opens hips.
Contract your abdominals and slightly bend one leg, keeping it on the ground and sitting back into your hips.
Cross your leg over the thigh of the bent standing leg.
Bend forward at the hips, keeping a straight back.
Hold the position for eight seconds and return to standing.
Repeat the stretch three or four times on each leg.
Tip: If you need help with balance, hold onto a body bar or something stable.
Photos by TAILYR IRVINE | Times