Health and Wellness Special Section: Stretch it out during and after exercising

Published on Wed, Jan 25, 2012 by Rachel Ely

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Stretching, or flexibility exercises, can give you more freedom of movement for everyday activities – bending over to tie your shoes, getting dressed, reaching for items on a shelf or looking over your shoulder as you back up your car.

Stretching exercises are also crucial in many sports and recreational activities. Regrettably, many people do not take the time nor understand the importance of including stretching or flexibility exercises as part of their routines.

Flexibility is defined as range-of-motion (ROM) or the degree of movement available in a joint. The terms are often used interchangeably. Stretching, done in an appropriate manner, is believed to facilitate increases in flexibility/ROM by physiologically producing changes in connective tissue that lead to increased flexibility.

Doing warm-up exercises before stretching helps to avoid injury, therefore you should stretch after your endurance or resistance training when the muscles and connective tissues are warm.

If stretching is the only exercise you’ll be doing, then walking, marching in place and swinging your arms for a few minutes before you begin stretching will help to avoid injury. Do not bounce, which can cause muscles to tighten and potentially produce an injury. Avoid locking your joints.

It is recommended that you stretch slowly and as far as possible without pain, holding each stretch 10 to 30 seconds. Then, relax, breath and repeat each stretch two to four times. Remember to breathe normally while you are performing your exercises – never hold your breath.

The following stretching exercises will help you improve your range of motions.

Stretching Exercises

1. Posterior Shoulder Stretch

Stand with your feet hip width apart and your knees slightly bent.
Raise your right arm to shoulder level and reach across your body to your left shoulder.
Place your left hand just above your right elbow and gently pull your right arm toward your chest, hold.

2. Anterior Shoulder and Chest Stretch

Stand with your feet hip width apart and knees slightly bent.
Place both hands behind your head with elbows out to the sides.
Carefully move your elbows back so that you feel a stretch across your chest and front shoulders, hold.

3. Back and Side Stretch

Stand with your feet hip width apart and your knees slightly bent.
Grasp both hands together in front of chest.
Extend arms out at shoulder level, pressing forward, hold.
With hands still grasped and arms still extended bring your arms above your head toward the ceiling and lean to your right side, hold.

4. Calf Stretch

Stand at arm’s length from a wall with your feet hip width apart.
Take a big step back with your right foot keeping your left foot forward.
Slowly bend your left knee, keeping your right knee straight and your right heel on the floor.
Hold your back straight and your hips forward. Don’t rotate your feet inward or outward. Hold.

5. Quadriceps Stretch

Stand near a wall with your feet hip width apart.
Bend your right knee behind you and grasp your foot.
Gently pull your foot toward your buttocks, hold.

6. Hamstring Stretch

Place your right foot forward on the floor or on a step.

 Flex your foot and bend forward from your hip joint, keeping your back and right leg straight, hold.

Rachel Ely is the Activity Center Manager for NW Park & Recreation District 2. Attend NWPRD2’s Health & Fitness Open House on Saturday, January 28, at the Birch Bay Activity Center. For more information, visit nwparkandrec.org.