Stretching is crucial when taking up exercise for the beginner just as much an international athlete. You cannot perform without stretching and avoid injury. You can perform better and reduce stress, injures and at the same time you’ll improve your flexibility. Stretching loosens your muscles before and after you work out, as well as ease muscle soreness.
Below I have listed some basic stretches which I do before every workout. If I am training a particular muscle group I will perform more stretches for that body part, but I will also do an all-round stretching routine to limber up my whole body.
Doing all these stretches should take about 10 minutes in total, and make sure you warm up for 5-10 minutes before doing any stretching. Even if it is just jogging on the spot.
Stretching Your Shoulders and Arms
I target the shoulders and arms with a single stretch. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your right hand on your left shoulder, with both arms bent. Pull your right elbow across your chest with your left hand. Hold for 5-10 seconds and repeat on the other side.
To stretch your triceps, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend one arm at the elbow and use it to bring your other, straightened arm across your chest. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on other arm. To stretch your triceps and shoulders, stand with your back straight and bend at the waist. Join your fingers together, and bring your arms above your head and stretching toward the ground. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
I also use a 2m plastic tube of about an inch in diameter I bought from a local hardware store. I hold it out in front of me, with my arms straight. Then I lift my arms over my head, and behind me, trying to keep my arms as straight as possible. This gives me a great stretch in my shoulders but also across my chest.
Stretching Your Side Muscles
A side stretch will work the muscles between your ribs as well as your lats (your wings) and external obliques. Stand with your feet together and join your fingers together. Raise your hands above your head and focus on straitening your arms, torso and legs. Slowly bend to one side and hold for five seconds. Return to your starting position then bend to the other side.
Stretching Your Upper Body
To stretch muscles in your upper body, stand with your knees about hip-width apart. Bring your bent arms above your head and hold one elbow with the hand of your opposite arm. Pull your elbow behind your head as you slowly lean to the side. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Stretching Your Neck
To stretch your neck just relax, and slowly turn your head to one side and hold for five seconds. Repeat on the other side. To stretch the back of your neck slowly bring your head down toward your chest and hold for five seconds. This should be a slow and deliberate movement at all times. Nothing jerky. Plus don’t roll your neck in circles like some people suggest.
Stretching Your Lower Back
You can stretch the lower back by sitting on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Bend one knee, resting the foot along the inner part of your straight leg. Lean forward to stretch over your straight leg, keeping your back straight. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other leg. This gives your legs a good stretch too.
Stretching Your Calf Muscles
A gentle stretch can effectively loosen the calf muscles. Stand with your feet together facing a wall, about arm’s-length away. Rest your hands on the wall, keeping your arms straight. Bring one foot back, keeping it straight. Allow your front knee to bend. Hold for five seconds. Repeat for your other leg.
Stretching Your Quad Muscles
The largest muscles in your body are the quadriceps in the upper legs. To stretch, stand about arm’s-length away from a wall, with your hands resting on the wall. Bend your left knee to bring your foot up behind you, and bring your right hand back to grasp your foot. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat for your other leg.
Stretching Your Hamstrings
I love this stretch as it was so important in my martial days of karate and Thai boxing. The hamstring stretch targets the back of your thighs, your leg biceps! Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet resting on the floor. Slowly straighten one leg, lifting it into the air toward your body. When you stretch as far as you can without bending the leg, hold it for five seconds. Lower the leg and repeat on your other leg.
Another one is where you stand up and cross one leg in front of the other. If you are not used to this you might need to stand in front of a wall to help you with balancing. Slowly reach down, and try and put your chest on the front of your thighs. Hold. And swop legs and do the other side.
Stretching Your Ankles
Don’t forget to stretch your ankles. Stand with your feet one foot in front of the other, with your hands on the wall in front of you for balance. Lean forward and feel the stretch in the ankle behind you. Hold for 5-10 seconds and then do the other ankle.
You can also pivot on the point of your toes, and rotate your foot and ankle clockwise, then counterclockwise 10-15 times. Repeat on the other side.
These stretches should take about 10 minutes, and make sure you warm up for a few minutes before doing any stretching.