Better Bend: Improve Your Flexibility

Melanie Douglass breaks down the latest recommendations for safe and effective flexibility training.

There are so many great reasons to stretch… is actually kind of ironic that the one form of exercise that feels good, takes only minutes of your day, and helps reduce pain is the one thing most of us don’t take time to do.

Here are some of the benefits you can receive from just a few minutes of stretching each day:

· Reduced muscular pain and tightness
· Correction of muscular imbalances
· Improved muscular efficiency; this means that short, tight muscles can’t move in a full range of motion, inhibiting the ability to burn more calories… so on the other hand, flexible, mobile muscles can move in a full range of motion, helping you burn more calories and be faster, stronger and more efficient overall
· Improved athletic performance
· Reduced risk of injury

So when should you stretch? The best time to stretch is after your workout. However, that doesn’t mean you skip warming up for workouts; you should still warm-up with 3-5 minutes of rhythmic limbering exercises (such as marching in place, light jogging, or jumping jacks, moving your arms as well). If you prefer to stretch before your workout, no problem; but the best gains in flexibility will come after your muscles are warm and active.

If you want “just stretch a little before bedtime”, then march/jog in place for about 3 minutes (or climb some stairs, etc) then perform your 5 – 10 minutes of stretching.

Okay, so you’ve got the why and when, but how should you stretch?

Here are the basic recommendations:
1) Hit the major muscle groups that typically cause problems:
a. Hamstrings (back of your legs)
b. Quads (front of your legs)
c. Back
d. Chest
e. Shoulders
f. Neck

2) Start with a static stretch, here’s what I mean:
a. Stretch the muscle as far as you can
b. Hold for 20 seconds
c. Rest 10 seconds, and repeat

3) If you have access to a foam roller – which helps target specific areas of pain – then try this:
a. Very slowly roll the full length of the muscle 2 times (top to bottom)
b. Roll again until you hit the most tender spot, hold 20-30 seconds
c. Stop and hold on any other tender spots
d. Roll the full length of the muscle 2 times to finish

4) If you want faster, bigger gains in your flexibility (if you are an athlete, or have a seriously tight muscle that is bothering you), then try PNF Stretching:
a. Stretch the muscle as far as you can
b. Contract the muscle (push the opposite direction) for about 5-8 seconds (you can use a strap, a wall or person pushing against you)
c. Release the contraction and try to stretch further; after the contraction phase, you should be able to stretch 1 – 2″ further.
d. Repeat 2 – 3 times.

If you’re looking for a good, affordable foam roller, try this one:

If you are looking for an app to give you a complete stretching program (or some good ideas for stretchs), here’s my favorite:

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