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Stretching and Flexibility
Stretching is an important part of fitness; It can increase the range of motion, improve blood circulation, calm the mind, fend off injuries and aid in good sleep. Stretching gradually increases flexibility and regular stretching could stimulate adaptations of muscles and other tissues that bring about lasting increment in flexibility.
Flexibility is defined as the range of motion within a joint along the various planes of motion. Within each joint there is an optimal range of motion (ROM) that is essential for peak performance. Stretching refers to the process of elongating the muscles to improve ROM.
Everyone can get flexible if they work at it. With regular training, muscles adapt and respond to flexibility. Everyday observations suggest the same because ballet dancers and yoga teachers, who stretch a lot, tend to be more flexible than others.
Exercises and Stretching
During an exercise regimen lactic acid builds up in muscles leading to muscle soreness and fatigue. Exercise can shorten a person’s muscles, decreasing mobility over time. Stretching keeps the muscles flexible and joints at their fullest range of motion.
Stretching after exercise gives the mind a chance to tune into the body. When we breathe through a stretch we pay attention to any aches and pains in the body. This mind-body connection relaxes and relieves stress. Stretching calms the nerves and relaxes the mind. Stretching reduces the risk of injury, reduces soreness experienced after exercise, or enhances sporting performance. The best time to stretch is a post workout stretch when our muscles are flexible, warmed up and relaxed.
Major benefits of stretching:
Increased movement efficiency
Decreased risk of injury
Increased blood supply and nutrients to joint structures
Increased neuromuscular coordination
Decreased risk of low back pain
Reduced muscular tension
Improved balance and postural awareness
Leg stretches improve flexibility and reduce the risk of injury.
The quadriceps, or quads for short, is the muscle group in the front of thigh used for walking, running, or lunging.
To stretch your quads:
Stand with your side to the wall, placing a hand on the wall for balance.
Hold your outside foot with your outside hand and lift the foot up toward your rear end, keeping your thighs and knees together.
You should feel a gentle to moderate stretch in the front of the thigh.
Hold for a cycle of relaxation breathing, then do the same for the other foot.
Hamstring / Calf stretch
The hamstrings are the muscles along the back of upper leg, running from thigh to the knee. They help you to bend your knee and move your hip. These muscles are used while playing sports or running.
To stretch both muscle groups together:
Place your right foot in front of you.
Hinge at the waist to lean your torso forward toward the extended right leg, and bend your supporting knee.
Slowly flex your right ankle so that your toes are pulling up toward your body.
Hold for a cycle of relaxation breathing and then repeat with the left foot.
Inner thigh stretch
The inner thigh muscles help to stabilize your hip and knee joints. Exercises that focus on working inner thighs are often recommended to tone and strengthen the legs.
To stretch your inner thighs:
Stand with a very wide stance.
Bend your right knee as you shift your entire body right until you feel a stretch in your left inner thigh.
Hold for a cycle of relaxation breathing, then shift your weight to the other side and repeat with the left leg.
Supine leg stretch
This stretch works your lower back, hamstring, calf, and ankle. All of these areas are used in your daily activities, and while running or biking.
To perform this stretch:
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
Bend one knee and hug it into your body.
Slowly kick that leg up toward the ceiling, straightening it and pulling it toward the torso until tension is felt behind the leg.
Point and flex the foot 3 times and perform 3 ankle circles in each direction.
Lower the leg and repeat with the opposite leg.