We bet you haven’t even thought about it but without being flexible enough, you can’t get out of bed or pick up your kids. Over time, as you age, your flexibility naturally deteriorates. But if you’re sedentary, then your flexibility will suffer too. Exercising regularly – as well as stretching correctly – is one way to keep joints, tendons and muscles flexible and supple. Remember that by improving your flexibility, you can realise greater gains in your muscular endurance, your fitness and your strength. You’ll also have to deal with fewer injuries. Here are five tips to ensure you maintain a healthy level of flexibility.
Tips for improving your flexibility
Include flexibility training in your workout program
Too often, flexibility is the after-thought and not the focus of an exercise. According to Foundations of Professional Personal Training With Web Resource, you should stretch after every workout. It is recommended that you perform flexibility training 4 to 7 days a week.
Make sure you’re warm BEFORE you stretch
Many people start their workout with a stretch. But even a gentle stretch, done before your muscles are warm, can cause injury and damage. We recommend you warm up with say, a walk or a slow swim, before you stretch. And perhaps keep your flexibility training for the end of your workout, when your muscles are really warm.
Use both static and dynamic stretches
Static stretches are those that simply stretch a muscle or tendon while you move very little. For example, when you bend over to touch your toes to stretch your hamstrings. Usually, you perform a static stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds, before resting and repeating the stretch.
Dynamic stretches are those which work a joint through its whole range of motion. For example, you stand on one leg, and then swing the other forward and back to warm up the hip flexor. “According to Elite Soccer Conditioning.com, dynamic exercise prepares the muscles for the activity by waking up their stretch-shortening complex, increasing muscle temperature, and stimulating the nervous system, which results in greater power output.”
Don’t feel the burn
You should “feel” the stretch. But if it hurts, you’re probably pushing too hard, or you’re doing it incorrectly (or both). Always perform each stretch slowly at first, paying careful attention to form and technique. Once you’ve got that down, you can push a little further to test your flexibility and progress.
Your muscles use oxygen as a fuel to keep working. And stretching is, in a way, work. So keep breathing during your stretches. Not only does it relax you (prevent injuries), it also ensures your muscles get sufficient oxygen.
4 of the best stretches for hamstring flexibility
Having flexible hamstrings is incredibly important, not merely from an all-round flexibility point of view but experts say that having tight hamstrings could increase your risk of lower back pain. What do you need to watch out for during your stretching to ensure that you get the most out of your hamstring stretch?
Don’t bounce when you stretch
Bouncing when you stretch is called “ballistic stretching” and some feel that it’s a good practice to adopt in order to deepen your stretch. Don’t do this as you could end up hurting your muscle.
Stretching isn’t a warm-up
If you stretch a cold muscle, chances are very good that you will injure it – which will put your training back for ages. Rather stretch after you’ve worked out when your muscles are warm – you’ll find that you’ll stretch more effectively and you won’t hurt anything.
Here are four of the best stretches to ensure that your hamstrings stay flexible.
Towel Hamstring Stretch
This hamstring stretch will put the least amount of strain on your lower back. To perform this stretch, lie on your back with one leg in the air. Wrap a towel behind your foot and gently pull the towel towards you. Stop when you feel the stretch in your hamstring – don’t overstretch so that you are in pain. Repeat with the other leg.
Static seated stretch
Sit on the floor with one leg stretched out in front of you with the other leg bent – almost as if you were sitting cross-legged. Rotate the stretched leg inwards. Lean gently towards the stretched leg, exhaling as your do so. Each time you exhale, fall lower into the stretch and stop when you feel that you’ve attained the deepness of stretch you want to achieve. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Put one leg on a chair and bend the leg that you’re standing on, slightly. Make sure that the leg that you have on the chair is straight. Slowly bend your torso towards this leg, making sure that you can feel the stretch in your hamstrings. If you feel pain in your lower back, put your leg on a lower surface or even on the floor – the height of the leg being stretched doesn’t matter; what matters is that you get a good stretch in your hamstring. Repeat the stretch on the other side.
Downward Facing Dog
A Yoga pose, the downward facing dog position provides an excellent stretch for your hamstrings. In order to perform this pose, Kristin Rooke – personal trainer and health coach – advises that you should begin in plank. Slowly lift your bum towards the sky so that your feet and hands are both on the ground. If you have very tight hamstrings, you may find this stretch difficult. If this is the case, rather start on the towel hamstring stretch, or the static seated stretch, to loosen your hamstrings up.
Always remember to listen to your body when you’re stretching: a deep stretch, where you feel the stretch, is good but don’t overstretch and cause yourself pain. Remember that pain is your body’s way of saying that there’s something wrong – so listen to it!
If you find that you’re not as flexible as you should be, consider signing up for a yoga or Pilates class, where you will be guided toward greater flexibility. Or hire a trainer, who can give you not only the right physical training, but also the right flexibility training. Better yet, qualify as a personal trainer yourself, and never again experience stiffness! On Trifocus Fitness Academy’s Personal Training Course, you’ll learn about other stretches that will maintain flexibility not just in your hamstrings but other parts of your body too. Check out the Comprehensive Personal Trainer certification on offer at Trifocus Fitness Academy today!