Health Wellness

The essential guide to stretching properly

Stretching is a crucial part of your workout routine. But did you know that stretching also helps maintain flexibility?

Why is stretching important?

Whether you’re 22 or 62, flexibility is essential for maintaining a fit and mobile body. Having flexible muscles ensures that you can easily accomplish daily activities and prevent injuries.

If you have inflexible muscles, your body could be pulled out of its natural alignment. Engaging in physical activities with inflexible muscles can also force your body to use compensation patterns if your mobility isn’t sufficient for certain tasks.

Some people are “naturally flexible” due to genetics or lifestyle habits. For example, being a physically active or sedentary child can affect your flexibility as you age. As an adult, your job and how often you exercise also affect your flexibility.

But even if you’re a couch potato or a gym buff, stretching properly and regularly will benefit your overall health.

Stretching may help reverse long-term bad postural habits like kyphosis and hyperlordosis, especially if your job requires you to sit in front of a computer for hours in a day.

Kyphosis refers to a hunchback posture that shortens your chest muscle. The condition, also called roundback, occurs when your spine in the upper back is excessively curved.

The thoracic region of the spine (upper back) has a natural slight curve. If you have kyphosis, the natural arch of your upper spine will be larger than normal.

Once you develop this condition, you may have a visible hump on your upper back. When viewed from the side, your upper back will look very rounded or will protrude. You will look like you’re slouching and your shoulders will seem noticeably rounded.

Kyphosis may result in pressure on the spine, which causes pain and discomfort. You may also experience breathing difficulties because of the pressure on your lungs. Stretching through the chest and shoulders can help relieve the discomfort caused by kyphosis.

On the other hand, if you have hyperlordosis or swayback, you have an excessive inward curve in your lower back. Hyperlordosis may also cause discomfort, which you can address by properly stretching tight back muscles.

Stretching is recommended for those with bad posture since fixing your alignment will help your body move and feel better. Additionally, stretching will make your workouts more effective since you will be able to easily access the correct muscles needed for optimized training. (Related: Maintaining wellness: The importance of stretching and staying limber.)

Stretching dos

If you’re unsure where to start, follow these tips for proper stretching.

  • Target and prioritize tight muscles. Do specific stretches for these areas.
  • Stretch consistently. Stretch at the end of each day for about 10 minutes.
  • If you have a desk job, set an alarm for every four hours at your desk. When the alarm goes off, carefully stretch your chest and neck.
  • Use deep breathing every time you stretch. Focus on making the stretch longer, not deeper.
  • Continually engage your abdominals. Think of the alignment of your hips and make them as square as possible.
  • Do your stretches in a comfortable position to avoid over-stretching.
  • After you workout, use static stretches where you hold each position for 10 to 30 seconds.
  • Stretching will help delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Stretching consistently can help increase blood flow to muscles, hasten recovery time, and relieve muscle soreness.

Stretching don’ts

Avoid these stretching mistakes to prevent injuries.

  • Never stretch in the morning without warming up.
  • Don’t overstretch or hold a pose for over 30 seconds at a time.
  • Never hold your breath while stretching. Doing this increases tension in the area you’re trying to relax and release.
  • Don’t relax your abdominals when stretching. It is best to be actively stretching and holding your body in proper alignment.
  • Don’t stretch an injured area, unless you’ve been advised to do so by your physician.

Try these stretches to keep your body flexible and limber.

Hip flexor stretch

  1. Start in a kneeling position, then straighten your back leg. Lift the heel off the floor then place the opposite hand on the floor.
  2. Twist to open your body into that front leg, lift your arm, then look toward the ceiling.
  3. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, then repeat on both the right and left.

Side stretch

  1. Start with one leg extended to the side, then tuck the other leg in across your midline.
  2. Side-bend over the extended leg while keeping the shoulders in a stacked position.
  3. Hold the pose for 30 seconds, then repeat on both the right and left.

Stay flexible and address bad posture by stretching regularly.

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