How to stretch for flexibility

There’s a common misconception that stretching and flexibility are the same thing. However, they’re not. Flexibility is the range of motion associated with a specific joint. The extent of a person’s flexibility can be determined by muscles and connective tissues in the surrounding areas. Stretching, instead, is a type of exercise that aims to improve flexibility by training the surrounding muscles and connective tissues.

Factors that influence flexibility

Having a limited range of motion can be linked to several factors that include muscle stiffness and joint injury. In the event that your muscle stiffness is related to an injury, it is best to consult an occupational therapist or someone else who is equipped to assist you in increasing your flexibility without resulting in further injury.

Stiff muscles can result in chronic pain, injuries and poor posture, to name but a few.

No two individuals will possess precisely the same degree of flexibility. Forcing yourself to be more flexible than your body allows can result in injury. In the same breath, overstretched muscles can result in over flexibility which can weaken your joints and cause dislocation. This can be counteracted with using resistance training.

Your degree of flexibility will be developed based on the needs of your day-to-day living. If you are a sportsman, your flexibility will relate to the activity you participate in.

Stretching ‘dos’

  • Warm-up before exercising.
  • Always stretch after exercising.
  • Relax and take it easy.
  • Hold each stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Full body stretches work well to improve posture.
  • If it hurts, stop.

Stretching ‘don’ts’

  • If your muscles are cold, don’t stretch them.
  • Don’t force a stretch.
  • A “quick” stretch won’t help much.
  • Don’t focus on one area of the body alone.

4 stretches to get you started

Standing Hamstring Stretch: Stand with your feet hip-width apart with your knees bent and arms by your side. As you bend forward, exhale and lower your head to the floor. Keep your neck, head and shoulders relaxed while doing so. Wrap your arms across your legs and hold for 1 minute. Slowly roll up once you’re done.

Piriformis (Hip) Stretch: Sit on the floor with legs outstretched. Cross your left leg over your right. Place your left hand behind you and place your right hand on your left quad. Press your left leg to the right and twist your body to the left. Hold for a minute before switching sides.

Lunge with Spinal Twist: Stand with your feet together. Step forward into a staggered posture. Bend your left knee and go into a lunge position. Put your right hand on the floor and then twist your body to the left. Raise your left arm to the sky. Hold for a minute before switching sides.

Tricep Stretch: Kneel with your legs hip-width apart and arms reaching upwards. Bend your left arm behind you and try to touch the middle of your back. Grab your elbow with you left hand and push it down. Hold for one minute and then switch sides.

Being flexible – and maintaining it – plays an important part in preventing injury. It’s important to know your limits and listen to your body to prevent overexertion. The golden rule with stretching is to stop if it hurts. When in doubt, please consult a trained, professional personal trainer.

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