Starting a Stretching Regimen
Seek guidance from a fitness professional. Before you embark on a stretching regimen, getting assistance from a coach or fitness instructor is a good idea. Even a single class or workshop will help ensure you have the positions correct.
A fitness professional can evaluate your personal flexibility and range of motion and give you specific stretches tailored to your personal needs and fitness level.
Check at a gym, martial arts center, or yoga studio near you to find a stretching or flexibility program.
Warm up before starting any stretches. If you attempt to do stretching when your muscles are cold, you risk muscle strain or more significant injuries. Ideally, add your stretching regimen to the end of your regular exercise routine.
Stretch your arms and shoulders. Start your stretching regimen either standing or sitting on the edge of a sturdy chair. If you’re going to stretch your arms and shoulders while sitting, make sure you’re sitting with good posture. Keep your back straight and neutral with your shoulder blades tucked down in line with your spine.
Reach one arm straight across your chest, pressing gently with your other hand just above your elbow until you feel a stretch. Don’t push your arm to force it further than it naturally goes. Hold the stretch for about 5 seconds, breathing deeply. Then release and do the other arm.
Lift one arm overhead and bend your elbow, dropping your hand behind your head. Grasp your fingers from below with the other hand if you can. If you can’t, place your other hand below your elbow and push back gently until you feel a stretch in your triceps. Hold the stretch for about 5 seconds, then switch and do the other arm.
Try a bridge to stretch your back. The bridge is a good whole body stretch that targets your back as well as stretching your chest, legs, and core. Begin this stretch by lying on the floor on your back with your knees bent at 90-degree angles and your feet flat on the floor.
Press your arms and palms into the mat on either side of you and lift your hips until your body forms a bridge with your thighs roughly parallel to the floor. Hold the bridge for 5 to 10 seconds, breathing deeply, then release to the ground. You can repeat this 3 to 5 times.
If you’re looking for something more challenging, get into the bridge and then raise one leg towards the ceiling. Release your leg, then repeat with the other leg.
Do a butterfly stretch. The butterfly stretch provides a good stretch for your glutes and thighs, as well as helping loosen your neck and back. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs extended.
Bend your knees to bring your feet together in front of you so that the soles of your feet are touching. Grasp your feet with your hands and lower your body toward your feet on an exhale. Make sure you engage your core and keep your back neutral, shoulders rolled back and not hunched.
Fold forward as far as you comfortably can. Hold the fold for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, breathing deeply.
Add seated trunk twists. Return to a seated position with your legs extended straight in front of you, feet and legs pressed together. Engage your core and sit tall with your shoulders rolled back so that your shoulder blades fall in line along your spine.
On an exhale, twist from the waist, bringing your hands to rest on the floor on the other side of your body. Keep your back neutral and make sure you’re twisting from the waist, not angling your hips.
Hold the twist for 15 to 30 seconds, then return to center and repeat with the other side. You can do 2 to 4 repetitions of this exercise on either side.
Lift into a swan stretch. The swan stretch is an adaptation of a yoga and pilates exercise that really opens up your chest as well as stretching your back and core. Start this stretch by lying on the floor on your stomach with your legs extended behind you.
Bend your elbows and press your palms into the floor on either side of your shoulders. On an exhale press up to extend your arms straight. Keep your shoulders back and down so they are rolling away from your ears.
Try to draw your shoulder blades together, grounding your hips into the floor. Feel the stretch in your chest. Hold the position for 15 to 30 seconds, then release back down to the ground. Repeat this stretch 3 to 5 times.
Kneel to stretch hip flexors and quads. This kneeling exercise is similar to lunges, but extending your back leg helps stretch your hip flexors as well as your hamstrings and quads. Start by kneeling on the floor.
Step one foot forward so that your knee is at a right angle. Step forward as far as you comfortably can – you’ll feel a stretch in the opposite hip. Your shin should be perpendicular to the floor, your knee directly over your ankle.
Grasp your front knee with your hands and press your hips forward, breathing deeply. Hold the pose for 15 to 30 seconds, then return to a kneeling position and repeat on the other side.
Maintaining Overall Health
Eat nutritious whole foods. While there aren’t any specific foods that have been proven to increase your flexibility, a good diet is essential for healthy and strong muscles and bones. Track your eating in a food diary for a couple of weeks so you can see what you’re really putting into your body.
Eat foods that are as fresh as possible, rather than prepared meals, frozen dinners, and junk food.
Create meal plans to ensure that your meals are balanced, and practice portion control.
Drink plenty of water. Flexibility requires healthy muscles, ligaments, and tendons. You can’t expect optimal performance from muscles that are dehydrated. Dehydrated muscles also are tight and stiff. If you try to stretch stiff, dehydrated muscles, you could end up with a serious injury.
Get a massage. Especially if you work out intensely or regularly engage in physical labor, a massage will help work out kinks and knots that develop in overworked muscles. Over time, these kinks and knots can significantly decrease your mobility.
You can use foam rollers to massage yourself, especially after workouts.
Find a massage therapist and try to make an appointment for a massage once every few months. It’s not only relaxing but also can help with your goal to become more flexible.
Take time to relax. When you’re stressed out, you can carry a lot of tension in your muscles. This will cause you to be significantly less flexible. If you don’t take time to relax and unwind, you will quickly undo any progress you’ve made towards becoming more flexible.