If stretching were considered more fun, more exercisers would probably do them on a regular basis. The problem with the negative connotation surrounding the topic of stretching comes from the same lack of knowledge and experience that causes many other misunderstandings in the fitness world. Too often people think it’s “uncool” or “unnecessary” to stretch. Nothing could be further from the truth. “Uncool” may be a relative term in this context, but “unnecessary” should absolutely be reversed to “necessary”.
Stretching has many benefits. Your muscles are lengthened when taken through a full range of motion, if the stretch is performed correctly, and your chance of injury is vastly reduced. The majority of injuries occur from non-contact. How is that possible? It doesn’t take a 250 pound linebacker hitting you at full speed to tear a hamstring. That can be accomplished all on your own while trying to sprint with a tight hamstring muscle. Most rotator cuff injuries arise from muscle imbalances where one side of the shoulder is overly tight and the other is overly weak.
The list of benefits for stretching continues, but the fact remains: you need to stretch. Always warm the muscles up before a stretch and stop before the point of pain. It is possible to over-stretch. Here are some stretches that keep you on the move, so you can stay in the game, avoid injury, and reap all the benefits of stretching:
Quadruped Pelvic Tilts (Cats & Dogs): Start on all fours with the thighs and arms perpendicular to the floor. Without bending the elbows, lower the spine (swayback) creating the dog position and then lift (arch) the spine creating the cat position. Repeat this back and forth and then find the middle or neutral position. Hold this neutral position with an abdominal brace for two breaths. Repeat 10 times each way for a total of 20.
Reverse Toe Touch: Stand with feet about 6 inches apart. Go into a squat position and grab both feet. Slowly lift the butt trying to extend the knees. It’s ok if knees don’t extend all the way. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat back and forth 5 times.
Prayer Stretch: Start by getting into a prayer position by kneeling down on the ground and sitting back on the heels. Place both arms on a stability ball and slowly roll the ball straight out in front of you. Roll until there is a big stretch in the body. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Stop if there is any pain. Repeat 2 times.
Lumbar Rotation Stretch: Lie flat on your back with arms extended out to the side. Draw the right knee up toward your chest and rotate to the left, trying to keep your right shoulder on the ground. Use your left hand on top of your right knee to gently pull and assist the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, switch legs and repeat.
Hip Flexor/Quadriceps Stretch: Get into a half-kneeling lunge position with the down knee about 2 feet behind the down foot. Place your hands on your hips and gently lean forward by bending the forward leg. You should feel a stretch in the down leg hip flexor and quad (top of the leg). Hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.