For most folks, stretching is only something you do when you’re reaching into the refrigerator for another post-workout beer. Maybe you make time for exercise, but in hyper-busy lives filled to the brim and overflowing with work, school, family, love and entertainment, taking a few extra minutes to do something that won’t directly whittle your waist can feel like a giant waste of time.
But, my friends, when it comes to your health and fitness, pulling a hamstring or twisting an ankle is an even bigger waste of time. Stretching is really just another name for injury prevention. It improves flexibility, balance, circulation and posture; decreases joint stiffness and muscle tension—and helps you to relax while, all while ensuring that bending down to get a beer from the fridge is relatively risk-free.
You can complete a good stretching routine in just 10 minutes. The following stretches are adapted from those know-it-alls at the Mayo Clinic. General advice—Do keep it gentle. Don’t hold your breath, bounce or hold a painful stretch. Tension is okay, but pain means you’ve gone too far. After each stretch, switch sides and repeat.
Stand at arm’s length from a wall and place your right foot behind your left foot. Keep your right knee straight and your right heel on the floor as you slowly bend your left leg forward. Your back should be straight and your hips forward. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds. To deepen the stretch, slightly bend your right knee as you bend your left leg forward.
To isolate your hamstring muscle without placing stress on your back and neck, lie on the floor near the outer corner of a wall or a doorframe. Rest your left heel against the wall, with your left knee slightly bent. Gently straighten your left leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your left thigh. As your flexibility increases, gradually scoot yourself closer to the wall or doorframe to maximize the stretch. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Standing near a wall for support, grasp your ankle and gently pull your heel up and back until you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh. This will stretch your quadriceps muscle, which runs along the front of your thigh. Tighten your stomach muscles to prevent your stomach from sagging outward, and keep your knees close together. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Iliotibial band (ITB) stretch
The iliotibial band (ITB) is a band of tissue that runs along the outside of your hip, thigh and knee. A tight ITB may cause pain in the outer knee or hip. To stretch your ITB, stand near a wall for support and cross your left leg over your right leg at the ankle. Extend your left arm overhead, reaching toward your right side. You’ll feel this stretch along your left hip. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
If the back of your shoulder is tight, you may be more likely to develop rotator cuff problems. To keep your shoulder flexible, bring your left arm across your body and hold it with your right arm, either above or below the elbow. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Stand in a relaxed position with your arms extended in front of you, parallel to the floor. Pull your shoulder blades together behind you, bending your arms slightly at the elbows so that they spread a little wider. Hold the position for a count of five, and then relax as you return to your starting position. Repeat five to 10 times.