If you've noticed you have more muscle aches and pains after exercising, it may be because you aren't stretching enough or properly. Active stretching increases your flexibility -- the ability of muscles and joints to go through a normal range of motion. IDEA Health and Fitness Association recommends you stretch two to three days per week to gain full benefits. Warm up muscles first with light activity such as jogging in place or brisk walking to avoid injury. Target all major muscle groups of the body including the arms, shoulders, chest, back, gluteals and legs.
Active stretching refers to stretching when you actively contract the muscle that is in opposition to the one you are trying to stretch. You must relax the muscle you are attempting to stretch to do this effectively. According to Jay Blahnik, author of "Full-Body Flexibility," active stretching decreases your risk of injury compared to other types of stretching that use equipment such as straps, steps or levers because you are controlling the stretch with your own force.
Active stretches for the legs target the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip muscles and calves. These muscles are particularly prone to tightness if you are sitting in a flexed position all day or are very active with running and cycling. Stretch one muscle group by contracting the opposite, surrounding muscles. For instance, an active quad stretch activates the hamstrings on the back of the thigh which then helps lengthen the quads on the front. Do an active quads stretch by standing tall with the right side of your body next to a wall. Touch the wall with one hand for support. Bend your left knee and grasp your left ankle in your hand behind you. Pull on your ankle lightly as you lift it toward your buttocks. Stop when you feel a stretch in the front of your thigh, holding the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds before resting and switching legs.
Active stretching for the arms targets major muscle groups including the biceps, triceps and shoulders. Stretch muscles after strength-training sessions to avoid muscle pain or excessive soreness. Do a triceps stretch by lifting your left arm straight up in the arm over your head. Bend your arm at the elbow such that your left hand is reaching towards the right shoulder blade. Grab your left elbow with your right hand to help pull the left arm down further and increase stretch on the triceps. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the right arm. This active stretch lengthens the triceps while activating the biceps to flex the elbow joint.
The muscles in the lower back should be actively stretched to decrease injury risks. Princeton University Athletic Medicine states that constant strain from untreated injuries such as muscle strains lead to tension in lower-back structures including the muscles, ligaments and bones. Increasing flexibility may be the best treatment option for back problems as it helps create balance in the spine and surrounding structures. Try a knee-to-chest active stretch for the lower back; this stretch activates the abdominal and hip flexor muscles while relaxing the spinal muscles. Do this stretch by lying on a mat on the floor with legs stretched out in front of you. Keep the abdominal muscles engaged to support your lower back as you bend your left knee and bring it in towards your chest. Wrap your arms around your knee to pull your leg in further, increasing the stretch in the low back and gluteals. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the opposite leg.
- Human Kinetics: Types Of Stretches
- IDEA Health & Fitness Association: Stretching - A Research Retrospective
- American College Of Sports Medicine: ACSM Issues New Recommendations On Quantity And Quality Of Exercise
- Full-Body Flexibility - Second Edition; Jay Blahnik
- Princeton University Athletic Medicine: Lumbar/Core Strength And Stability Exercises
Jennifer Andrews specializes in writing about health, wellness and nutrition. Andrews has a Master of Science in physical therapy from the University of Alberta as well as a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. She teaches yoga and pilates and is a recent graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition.