5 Essential Stretches for Flexibility
Keeping muscles long and loose is key to aging well. Follow along with our stretching routine to improve your flexibility
When it comes to fitness, we tend to look for the best way to burn as many calories as possible. If this is you, you may be ignoring a major component to fitness - flexibility.
"Flexibility is the third pillar of fitness, next to cardiovascular conditioning and strength training," says David Geier, the director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Stretching for as little as 10 minutes a day can help prevent injuries from everyday tasks and exercise, and even prevent illness. For example, a 2009 study in the American Journal of Physiology indicated that people ages 40 and older who performed well on a sit-and-reach test (a seated forward bend that measures flexibility) had less stiffness in their arterial walls, an indicator of risk for stroke and heart attack.
When we practice flexibility, our muscles (and tendons) are stretched to improve elasticity. Over time, the body will adapt and allow these muscles to stretch further before injury ensues.
Why is all of this important? As we age we lose muscle mass and begin to use less range of motion within our daily activities, which further decreases flexibility. Luckily, it's never too late to start stretching and working on your flexibility. Here are five moves to improve your range of motion and keep you moving with ease throughout your day.
Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, then release and repeat three more times. Alternatively, you can treat the workout as a circuit, moving through each stretch and holding for 30 seconds, then repeating each three more times. Note that it's important to maintain deep breathing through every stretch. If you notice you are holding your breath then release the stretch and continue without going as deep on the next one. Remember: Stretching should never feel painful.
Spend two to three minutes jogging or marching on the spot. This will help to warm up your muscles by increasing blood flow, which will aid flexibility.
Classic Downward Dog: 2 Minutes
A. Begin on a mat (or comfortable flooring) on your hands and feet. Position your body so that your hips are pointing towards the ceiling and you are in an upside-down V-position.
B. Push the floor with your hands and keep your knees slightly bent (especially if you are feeling tightness in the back of your legs).
C. Continue to bring your hips as close to the ceiling as you can.
Rounded Back: 2 Minutes
A. Sitting on the floor with knees bent and your heels approximately one foot in front of your bum.
B. Interlace your hands under your knees and let your elbows fall out to the sides while you begin to exaggerate a rounded back.
C. Tuck in your stomach and continue to round your back while taking some deep breaths. To increase the stretch, step your heels further away from your bum.
Mini Cobra: 2 Minutes
A. Lay face down on your mat or floor with your hands under your shoulders and the tops of your feet flat on the floor.
B. While keeping your hips on the floor, press into your hands to lift your chest.
C. Straighten your arms as much as you can without feeling any discomfort. Continue to breathe deeply.
Butterfly Stretch: 2 Minutes
Back and Legs
A. Begin sitting on the floor with the soles of your feet together and your knees bent out to either side.
B. Hold your feet with your hands and begin to actively move your knees down toward the floor while lowering your upper body towards your feet.
C. If it's comfortable for you, use your elbows to gently assist your knees closer to the floor and deepen the stretch.
Tip-Over: 2 Minutes
Chest, Shoulders and Back
A. Begin standing with your feet hip-width apart and your hands interlocked behind your back.
B. Lean your chest forward as you slowly fold your upper body toward your thighs while pulling your arms up to increase the stretch.
C. Keep a slight bend in the back of your knees as you fold deeper and reach your arms up higher.
Complete your flexibility routine by lying flat on your back and reaching your arms above your head and pulling your arms and legs in opposite directions for a last complete body stretch. Then return your arms to a comfortable position and enjoy 10 exaggerated inhales and exhales.