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Stretches to Improve Flexibility

Flexibility is defined as the ability for a joint (bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons) to move through a full range of motion with ease (limited resistance and discomfort). In today’s world, many people consider themselves to be inflexible or at the very least regularly feel stiff. Lack of flexibility can be caused by many things including but not limited to genetics, age, gender, sedentary lifestyle and excessive exercise without stretching.

One of the leading causes of inflexibility is sitting too much. A recent study done by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHNES) found that out of over 6,000 adults (age 18+) polled 25% sat an average of >8 hours a day and only 3% said they sat < 4 hours a day. This leaves most of our population sitting between 4 and 8 hours a day. Think about it, we sit as we drive, study, work, eat and even in many of our favorite leisure activities (i.e. watching TV, going to the movies, computer or phone internet browsing, reading, etc.). This leaves us with excessive tightness in our hip flexors and hamstrings and achy necks/backs due to poor posture.

Stretching regularly can improve joint range of motion, athletic performance, and decrease muscle soreness and risk of injury. One study found that stretching 4 times per week can increase flexibility by 82%. Check out the tips below to get on your way to improved flexibility and reduced stiffness.

  • Warm muscles up (i.e. walking, arm swings, simple squats or lunges) prior to implementing a stretch routine in order to reduce the risk of overstretching or straining a muscle.
  • Focus on major muscle groups such as shoulders, back, hip flexors, quads, hamstrings, and calves.
  • Hold stretches for 15-30 seconds at a time and repeat on each side 2-3x gaining a deeper stretch each time.
  • Breath freely and deeply while stretching.
  • Don’t bounce rigidly while holding a stretch. However, slow and controlled movement in and out of a stretch can increase range of motion and allow you to reach a deeper and more beneficial stretch.
  • Pain is not a target. Instead, shoot for muscle tension or slight discomfort. This should dissipate as you hold a stretch indicating the muscle is releasing.
  • Implement stretch routine a minimum of 3-4 times a week for best results.

A Simple Stretch Routine to Follow:

  • Shoulders:
    1. Cross Body Shoulder Stretch- In a standing position, bring an arm across the chest. Wrap the opposite arm around the extended arm and gently pull into the chest.
    2. Tricep Stretch- In a standing position, bring one arm overhead with a bent elbow (palm should touch the back). Use the opposite hand to grip the elbow and gently pull down.
    3. Standing Wall Chest Stretch- Stand on a corner wall. Place a palm on the wall at shoulder level. Twist the shoulders away from the wall until feeling a gentle stretch through the chest.
  • Back:
    1. Cat Cow- In hands knees position on the ground, round the back out, pulling the core in, and look down at the ground. Then arch back, letting the stomach hang, and look up at the ceiling. Repeat back and forth several times.
    2. Child’s Pose- From a hands and knees position on the ground, sit the buttocks back onto heels, keeping the arms reaching as high as possible. Hold.
  • Hip Flexor:
    1. Standing Split Stance Hip Flexor- Standing with feet in an elongated split stance. Reach the hands overhead while rocking hips forward and bending the front knee.
  • Quads:
    1. Standing Quad Stretch- Stand on one leg while bending the opposite knee bringing the foot to buttocks. Gently pull until you feel slight tension down the front of the thigh.
  • Hamstring:
    1. Standing Hamstring- From Standing position, fold at the hips and allow the head and arms to reach towards toes.
    2. Sitting Hamstring Stretch- While seated, extend both legs out in front. Fold at hips and reach arms towards feet (can be performed with legs together and legs in a “V.”
  • Calf:
    1. Wall Calf Stretch- Standing with hands on the wall and feet in an elongated split stance, bend front leg’s knee towards wall keeping back heel on the ground.
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