Ah, the relaxing bliss of stretching. Strength training I do to get stronger, walking I do because I think it’s silly to always drive, but stretching? Stretching is a joy.
- Stretching helps me to relax.
- Stretching helps relieve muscle soreness. I did chair squats Sunday night; Monday my leg muscles were a bit sore. Stretching those muscles Monday morning* hurt a bit during the stretching, but after stretching I could walk without pain.
- Stretching helps increase flexibility and my range of motion. If I’m not stretching regularly it gets harder for me to bend in ways I don’t normally. It’s like my body gets stuck in ruts based on what I normally do. Stretching can help me get out of the ruts.
- Stretching can improve blood flow to your muscles.
What I don’t do is stretch immediately before or after strength training or aerobics, unless I specifically feel “tight”. Instead, I stretch in the morning, when I’m sore, or before bed.
The biggest reason to stretch, I think, is to increase or maintain your flexibility.
How do I stretch? I do a basic routine most mornings. I also do some general stretch-however-the-spirit-moves-me, including yoga poses, when I’m feeling stiff at work and before bed. I do have some specific adaptations of common stretches that you might like, so I’m going to put them here, but this is by no means complete.
Quad stretch (illustration) – my main problem with this stretch is that my thighs and calves are big enough that I have trouble getting my foot up to my hand. I have 3 adaptations for this one, using props. If you haven’t done this stretch in a while you might want to try a non-standing version first.
- Pillows: I lay on my right side on the bed, with a pillow behind my buttocks. I slowly lift up my left foot to rest on the pillow, then lean back and grab my foot. I hold it for a while, depending on how it feels. I then roll over, reposition the pillow, and stretch the other leg.
- Yoga Strap: I use the strap to pull my foot closer to my buttocks. This can be done laying facedown, on one’s side, or standing. This is probably the most adaptable of these, since the hand doesn’t actually have to touch the foot.
- Furniture: We have a sturdy sectional sofa in the middle of the TV room. I stand about a foot behind the couch, with my back to the back of the couch, and lift my foot onto the back of the couch. Then I lean back to grab my foot—which puts me in the traditional pose. (I also use the back of the couch for standing hamstring stretches.)
What I generally don’t do is sit with one leg tucked under me and lean back, mainly because it tends to twist my knee and not get a uniform stretch on the quads.
Knee-to-chest (illustration) – my belly gets in the way on this one. I open my lower back in several ways:
- I scoot forward on a chair, legs apart, and reach down toward the floor.
- Sit on the floor or bed, spread legs apart, and lean forward.
- Lay on my back, bring my legs up similar to knee-to-chest — only my knees are off to each side of my belly. Originally I’d use the yoga strap to hold my legs in position, but now I can just use my hands.
Do you like to stretch? Why/why not? Do you make adaptations?
*It’s often been suggested that one should stretch immediately after working out to prevent soreness, but studies recommend a warm-up and cool-down is better.