No matter what your fitness level, stretching is a valuable activity to add to your daily workout routine.
Although stretching is simple to do, it's often the most neglected part of people's fitness regimens, according to the American Council on Exercise. Stretching can reduce your risk for injury and help you become more limber, regardless of your age and physical condition.
Stretching can improve your circulation and posture because it helps increase your range of motion, strength, coordination, and flexibility.
Regular stretching reduces muscle tension and promotes freer movement. It should be comfortable and relaxing—you should never stretch to the point of pain. When you stretch, work at your own pace and within your own limits.
As with any other fitness program, be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning a stretching routine. This is especially important if you have arthritis, joint dysfunction or back problems. Stretching can be beneficial to people with these conditions, but some exercises may overstress the joints. Here are some basic things to remember:
Stretch after you do your regularly scheduled strength and endurance exercises.
If you can't do endurance or strength exercises for some reason, and stretching exercises are the only kind you are able to do, do them at least 3 times a week, for at least 20 minutes each session.
Do each stretching exercise 3 to 5 times at each session.
Slowly stretch into the desired position, as far as possible without pain, and hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds. Relax, then repeat, trying to stretch farther.
The National Institute on Aging gives the following safety recommendations:
If you have had a hip replacement, check with your surgeon before doing lower body exercises.
If you have had a hip replacement, don't cross your legs or bend your hips past a 90-degree angle.
Always warm up before stretching exercises (do them after endurance or strength exercises, for example; or, if you are doing only stretching exercises on a particular day, do a little bit of easy walking and arm-pumping first). Stretching your muscles before they are warmed up may result in injury.
Stretching should never cause pain, especially joint pain. If it does, you are stretching too far, and you need to reduce the stretch so that it doesn't hurt.
Mild discomfort or a mild pulling sensation is normal.
Never "bounce" into a stretch; make slow, steady movements instead. Jerking into position can cause muscles to tighten, possibly resulting in injury.
Avoid "locking" your joints into place when you straighten them during stretches. Your arms and legs should be straight when you stretch them, but don't lock them in a tightly straight position. You should always have a very small amount of bending in your joints while stretching.
You can do the following stretches while sitting at your desk or standing in your work area. Doing them a few times a day will help release the muscle tension in your hands, arms, shoulders and back.
Do each stretch to the point of light tightness; move your body slowly and gently.
Breathe deeply and regularly. Exhale as you bend into a stretch and breathe in a controlled, rhythmic manner while you're in the stretch.
Reach your arms out in front of you and rotate your wrists 10 times in a clockwise direction, then 10 times counterclockwise.
Clasp your hands together in front of your chest at shoulder height. Extend your arms forward until you feel a stretch in your upper back, shoulders, arms and hands. Hold for 15 seconds, relax, then repeat for 30 seconds.
Lift one arm in front of you as if to grab something. Then use the other arm to pull the outstretched arm gently across the chest so that the muscles are stretched. Hold for 15 seconds, relax, then repeat for another 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat, using your left arm.
Sit tall in a chair, let your right arm hand down and grasp the seat. Then try to tip the head toward the left side. Holding onto the seat keeps your shoulders level during the stretch. Hold for 15 seconds, relax, then repeat for another 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat, using your left arm.
Bring your arms behind your back and interlace your fingers with your palms facing inward. Straighten your arms and lift them up until you feel a stretch in your arms, shoulders and chest. Hold for 15 seconds, relax, then repeat the stretch for another 15 to 30 seconds.
Sit tall in your chair and try to rotate to grab the back of the chair while keeping your feet flat on the floor. Hold for 15 seconds, relax, then repeat the stretch turning to the other side.
Cross one ankle onto the opposite knee, sit tall. Then, lean forward from your hips, keeping your chest upright. This stretches the outer hip which is the culprit in many back problems. Hold for 15 seconds, relax, then repeat using the other leg.