Stretching.. The truth. How and why should I stretch after exercise?
We’ve all been in an exercise class, and glazed over during the bit at the end when the instructor mentions stretching. You stand there and try to copy, but do you really know what you’re supposed to be doing?
The aim of stretching is to release the tension and tightness in muscles after they’ve been contracting. Muscles can become tight for various reasons including prolonged sitting, holding any position for a length of time (driving or hunching over a computer) and repetitive use during sports and exercise.
Once in the stretch (which should be to the point of ‘mild discomfort’ and no further) it should be held for 20-30 seconds. If it loosens during that time, you can push it a little further but don’t release it or you’ll have to start again!
Here’s my simple guide to stretching your major muscles properly
You should feel this in the front of your thigh. Take your left heel to your bottom (or as far as you can) whilst standing up straight. Keep your knees together and if you wish to increase the stretch, clench your left buttock. Repeat on the other side.
Heel to bottom quad stretch
You should feel this in the back of your left thigh. Put your left leg forward and keep the knee straight. Bend the right knee, lean forward and stick your bottom in the air like a duck. Imagine you’re pointing your tailbone to the ceiling. Repeat on the other side.
Straight leg bottom raise hamstring stretch
You should feel this at the back of your lower leg. Stand on a step, placing the ball of your left foot on the edge. Keeping your knee straight, sink your weight down into your heel (lowering it towards the floor) until you feel enough tension in your calf. Repeat on the other side.
Straight leg calf stretch on a step
You should feel this in your left buttock. Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Cross your left leg over your right, keeping the knee bent and the left foot in contact with the floor by your right knee. Use your right arm to pull your left knee towards your right armpit. Repeat on the other side.
Cross leg glute stretch
Hip flexor stretch
You should feel this on your left side over the crease where your thigh joins your torso. Kneel on your left knee with your body upright and your right foot in front of you. Clench your left buttock and push your hips forward, keeping the left knee on the floor. Do not bend forward at the hips. Repeat on the other side.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch
You should feel this from your breast bone to your left armpit. Stand with your left arm bent at the elbow and held against a door frame at chest height. Put your left foot forward and then move your body forward, keeping the forearm on the door frame. Repeat on the right.
Standing chest stretch on door frame
You should feel this between your shoulder blades. Stand up straight with soft knees. Put one hand in front of the other and push them away from your body as far as you can stretch them. Widen your elbows, keeping your hands together as if you were hugging a stability ball.
Standing rhomboid stretch
The stretches that are referred to in this article are Static Stretches, and should only be done at the end of a workout or later in the day but not as part of your warm up. Pre-exercise stretches should be dynamic and there will be more articles on this later. Watch this space!