Whenever I workout, especially after a hard workout, I always make sure to spend some time stretching. For me, stretching is like the dessert of my workout, it’s my favorite part. I love feeling my heart and breath slow down while I lean into a deep stretch. It helps me wind down both physically and mentally.
So, how important is it to stretch? Some benefits of stretching include decreasing pain and soreness after exercise, improves circulation, range of motion, and posture. It also decreases muscle tension and soreness.
If you lack time, you do not need to stretch after every workout. However, if you’ve just finished a hard workout or a new workout, make sure you allow time for it.
Before starting any kind of stretch make sure your body is warmed up. You will increase the risk of injury if you try to stretch “cold” muscles.
During your stretching it is important to keep a couple things in mind. Always stretch slowly (even if you’re in a hurry) and always stretch both sides of the body. Hold each stretch for at least 15 seconds and make sure you are breathing! People tend to hold their breath while stretching and this could lead to injury, and also prevents the muscles from getting the oxygen they need. Never bounce or jerk while stretching and avoid over-stretching. Never push your stretch to the point you are feeling sharp pain or discomfort.
Below I have listed some examples of stretches for the upper body and also some that are good to do after you run. All of these stretches are also good anytime you feel like stretching. Just keep in mind to warm-up prior.
Some of the best stretches for your shoulders include the triangle pose, standing biceps stretch and standing triceps stretch.
The triangle pose will help you open up through the chest, more specifically you pectoral muscle group. You will also notice it in your hips.
To do: Stand with your feet about 4 feet apart, your arms reaching out to the right and left as far as possible, your shoulders relaxed and pulled away from your ears. Turn your left foot a tiny bit to the right and your right foot and leg out at the hip so that your foot is parallel with your right arm. Both feet should be in line with each other. Exhale as you rotate your torso at the waist so that your right hand reaches down to your right foot and your left hand reaches up toward the ceiling. Your chest should remain facing the front–or, if possible, it should turn up toward the ceiling. Hold for about 30 seconds, and then stack up each vertebra slowly as you return to standing. Repeat on the opposite side.
Standing Biceps Stretch
Just like the name implies this stretch is for the biceps.
To do: Stand with your arms extended out as far as possible toward each side. Breathe in, and as you exhale, turn your palms up toward the ceiling by rotating at the shoulder joint. Hold for 30 seconds and then rotate your shoulders in the opposite direction as far as you can without feeling uncomfortable. Hold the second position for 30 seconds.
Standing Triceps Stretch
This move stretches the back of the arm, specifically the triceps muscles.
To do: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, drawing your navel in toward your spine and reaching up toward the ceiling. Bend your right arm at the elbow so that the top of the arm points up toward the ceiling and your right hand is behind your head. Gently press your right triceps toward the back of your body with your left hand to deepen the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds, and then repeat on the opposite side. For best results, be sure to avoid arching your back when performing this stretch.
These next few stretches are good for anytime, and especially good after running.
Standing Calf Stretch
To do: Stand about an arm’s-length from the wall and lean forward, placing both hands on the wall at about shoulder width part. Extend one foot behind you with heel on the ground and the other foot closer to the wall. Lean into the wall with your hips until you feel a stretch in the calf of the extended leg. Hold for 30 seconds and change sides. If you want a deeper stretch, mover your foot further back.
Standing IT band stretch
The iliotibial band (IT) is a tough group of fibers that run along the outside of the thigh. A common injury for runners is called the IT band syndrome.
To do: Stand in a doorway with your eft leg crossed in front of your right leg. With your right arm extending overhead, reach for the left side of the door frame, putting your left hand on your hip. Push slightly on your left hip to move your hips to the right; you should feel a slight stretch along the right side of your torso. Hold for 20-30 seconds and change sides. To make the stretch deeper, keep your feet further apart, bend the knee of your forward foot and keep the back knee straight.
Standing Quad Stretch
Injuries to the quadriceps are often caused by a strength or flexibility imbalance between the quadriceps and the hamstrings. This is one of the many ways to stretch your quads.
To do: Stand on one leg, hold onto something for balance. Bend your knee and bring your heel to your buttock and grab your ankle. While holding your ankle stand up straight and feel a slight pull along the front of your thigh and hip. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, release and repeat of other leg. Be careful no to strain your knee, the goal isn’t reaching your heel to your back but rather stretching the thigh.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
This stretch can help maintain good running form and reduce the risk of stiffness, pain and injury.
To do: While sitting on the ground, extend your legs in front of you. Extend your arms in front of you and lean forward. Reach as far forward as comfortable, do not try to force yourself to touch your toes. The goal is to stretch your hamstrings. Hold for 20-30 seconds, making sure you are taking slow deep breaths.
Hip Flexor-Psoas Stretch
The hip flexors are often overused in runners. These muscles pull the legs up toward the trunk and runners rely on the muscles, particularly when running uphill so keeping these muscles limber is essential.
To do: Begin in a forward lunge position and place your hands on your knees. Press your hands down on your knee and extend the hips forward until you feel a stretch from the front of your hip, groin and thigh. Hold for 20-30 seconds, release and repeat on other leg.