While it may be tempting to place your stretching routine on the back burner, there are multiple reasons to increase your muscular elasticity, or flexibility. Improvements in range of motion and athletic capability, stress reduction and better sleep are all benefits of a regular stretching routine. Understanding different modes of stretching will help you decide how to incorporate flexibility training into your week.
Two or three full-body stretching sessions each week will increase muscular range of motion and improve elasticity, says the American College of Sports Medicine. Muscles stretch better when they are warm, so it is best to do a light warmup before your routine. Walking, climbing the stairs, throwing a ball with a partner or using the elliptical for five minutes are all effective ways to heat your muscles.
Muscles can become constricted, negatively affecting flexibility, appearance and capability. During static stretches, you hold your muscle in a lengthened position to increase muscle fiber length and elasticity. The stretches can help restore tight muscles and help you unwind -- in fact, the muscular relaxation makes it important to do static stretches after a workout, not before. Every time you do a static stretch, hold it until your feel slight tension, not pain, in the muscle -- typically 10 to 30 seconds, says ACSM. Complete as many repetitions of a stretch as necessary to total 60 seconds. For example, do a stretch three times if you can hold it for 20 seconds. Examples of static stretches include the seated hamstrings stretch, standing hip-flexors stretch and the standing calf stretch.
Dynamic stretches use more than one muscle at a time, and focus on speed and taking the muscle through its range of motion. They improve elasticity, muscular efficiency and decrease the risk of muscular strain or exertion during exercises. Dynamic stretching should be done before a workout. For example, arm circles “wake up" your shoulders, signaling it's time to exercise. Do dynamic stretches for a total of 60 seconds, breaking it into segments appropriate to your fitness level.
Yoga provides an opportunity to increase muscular elasticity while working on personal fitness, balance, stress reduction and mindfulness. In addition to improving flexibility, yoga may help alleviate symptoms of asthma, depression and anxiety, says Yoga Journal. If you like group fitness, a yoga class may interest you. Consider a DVD or podcast if you prefer to exercise on your own. One bonus of going to a class is the instructor -- she can correct your form and ensure that you are doing the yoga poses correctly.
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise
- American Council on Exercise: Flexible Benefits
- Arthritis Foundation: Exercises to Help You Warm Up, Stretch, and Cool Down
- University of Virginia: Dynamic Stretches
- Yoga Journal: How Yoga Improves Health
- ACE Personal Trainer Manual; American Council on Exercise
- Cleveland Clinic: Dynamic Stretches