The importance of stretching can’t be emphasized enough, especially for those of us who exercise frequently. When you stretch out your muscles and joints regularly, you increase your flexibility and blood circulation while reducing tension and stiffness. As a result, your muscles recover faster and your training is more effective overall.
There are two major types of stretches: static and dynamic.
Static stretching involves holding a stretch for about 15-30 seconds and repeating this 3-5 times. There’s some evidence that suggests that static stretching could reduce strength during workouts so it’s most effective when done right after working out. Your body is warmed up and this means that your muscles stretch more safely since they are more pliable. By increasing blood flow to damaged muscle areas, you get the added benefit of helping rebuild your muscle fibers faster.
Dynamic stretching refers to moving stretches in which your muscles and joints pass through the same motions a few times. For instance, walking lunges or yoga would fall under this category. Dynamic stretching is most helpful before working out since it prepares your muscles for what is about to come next.
Regardless of which technique you are using, you should always stretch in gentle and natural movements avoiding any excessive jerkiness or over-extension. Stretching is not meant to be painful, nor are the results immediate. If you find that you are in pain or shaking during a stretch, ease-off and come back to where you’re feeling tension, but it’s not uncomfortable.
Here are some basic stretches that you can do before and after running or cardio workouts.
Cat-Cow: Get down on all fours with your wrists below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Arch your middle-back upwards and drop your head and neck while extending your arms. Maintaining the extension in your arms, drop your middle back and arch your upper back upwards and bringing your shoulder blades together. Bring your chest forward and look up. Repeat the whole sequence 4-5 times.
Side Leg Raises: Lie on your side and lift your upper leg as high as you comfortably can. Bring it back down slowly and then repeat this motion 5 times on either side.
Walking Lunges: Lunge with your right foot forward and then without coming back to your starting position, lunge with your left foot, moving you forward.
Side lunge: Stand with your feet wide apart and toes pointing in front. Fold your hands in prayer position in front of your chest. Lower your torso down to your right side, bringing your glute as close to the ground as you can while keeping your upper body upright. Hold here for 15-30 seconds. Do either side 3-4 times.
Hero pose: Kneel on the floor with your feet wider than your hips. Sit back between your feet on the floor, a cushion or a block. Make sure your hips are even and that you’re sitting upright and with your back straight, shoulders down and moving towards each other. You should feel a nice stretch in your quads. Place your hands on your thighs and hold here for 30 seconds.
Kneeling Hip Flexor and Hamstring: Get into a lunge position with your right leg in front. Drop your left knee to the ground. Even your hips and hold here for 30 seconds. Repeat each side 5 times.
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