Sat at your desk all day? Finished a 30-minute walk? Spent the day chasing after your toddler? All these scenarios have something in common. All would benefit, physically and psychologically, from a 10-minute stretch.
“Most people flee the gym after their 30 minutes of cardio,” says Gina Ryan, program manager at the Well for Life Center at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “They forgo stretching because they don’t have time, they forget or they don’t understand its importance.”
But, there's a reason stretching is the third pillar of fitness, next to cardio and strength training.
Stretching made easy
Use these everyday stretches to fine-tune your muscles and increase your flexibility. This is a general routine that emphasizes stretching and relaxing the muscles most frequently used during normal day-to-day activities.
- When performing your stretches, be sure to stretch slowly, breathe naturally and avoid bouncing.
- Stretching shouldn’t hurt. If you’ve stretched too far and it hurts ease up.
- Never stretch “cold muscles”— always warm up first.
If you don't have 10 minutes to spare, start with just a few minutes of stretching — anything is better than nothing.
Take two minutes a day to improve your flexibility with these simple stretches.
While gripping your forearm, stretch your arm across your body. Hold for 8-10 seconds and switch sides.
For the second stretch, sit with a straight back. Cross your left foot to the outside of your right leg. Twist to the left and hold for 10-20 seconds. Switch sides.
For the third stretch, you need to be standing. Bend your left knee, bringing your heel toward your butt, and hold your foot. Extend your opposite hand, hold for 5-10 seconds and switch sides.
Next up is a sitting stretch. Bring your heels together and hold for 20-30 seconds.
Next, in a standing position, stretch your arms up and hold for 10-12 seconds. Do this two times.
Lastly, lay down, bending and gently pulling your knee toward your chest. Hold for 10-20 seconds and switch sides.
Frequently asked questions about stretching and flexibility
Why does flexibility matter?
When you stretch, you lengthen your muscles, or allow your muscles to have some give.” You also give your joints a greater range of mobility. Stretching helps make everyday activities easier, prevents injuries and helps make your muscles longer, leaner and stronger.
As I age, isn't it inevitable that I will become less flexible?
You’ve heard the term “use it or lose it.” Well, this is the case with your muscles. They will become shorter and tighter as you age, but only if you don’t put them to good use. If you stretch regularly, you’ll still be able to indulge in daily life without risk of injury. You’ll be better equipped to lift that box, or quickly reach for the vase falling off the counter without pulling a muscle.
How does stretching keep you safe from injury?
Without flexible muscles, any sudden movement could cause injury. When you stretch a muscle, you lengthen the tendons, or muscle fibers, that attach it to the bone.
The longer the fibers, the more you can increase the muscle in size during strength training. Flexible muscles become stronger muscles.
"Being flexible doesn't mean you have to be able to do the splits or hold a pretzel-like yoga pose. Focus on your own body's abilities. Avoid comparing yourself to others," says Ryan.
How can I fit a stretching into my busy day?
Consider your lifestyle and determine when you could fit in a few minutes of stretching. For example:
- If you sit at your desk all day, you’ll be more productive if you take periodic breaks for a quick walk and a few stretches.
- If you’re watching TV, take a few moments during commercial breaks to stretch.
- If you’re active throughout the day, take some quiet time mid-afternoon to just sit in a quiet space and stretch for a few minutes.
"Stretching may become your favorite part of the day. Focus on deep breathing while listening to your body — a great way to relax or relieve stress. The more you do it, the more you will get out of it."
Should I stretch before or after a workout?
Ideally, you should warm your muscles up with a little exercise before stretching. Think of your muscles like a cold rubber band. You’ll want to get it moving a little before you stretch it. A rubber band can only take so much until it tears. The same is true for your muscles.
Walk a couple of minutes and get your blood moving before you stretch. Do most of your stretching after your workout, when your muscles are warmed up. It will help increase your flexibility and decrease any soreness.
How flexible do I need to be?
Some people are just naturally more flexible than others. You don’t have to be able to do the splits to be flexible. You just need to be as flexible as your lifestyle dictates. Don’t get discouraged if it seems you’re not as flexible as the next person. Simply work on your own level of flexibility.