Crunched for time? Don’t skimp on your stretching. Your time will be well invested, and you may be surprised at how much better you feel if you regularly stretch. The American Council on Exercise reports that stretching can improve posture, range of motion, coordination and circulation. Frequent stretching can also provide stress relief and decrease your risk of injury, as well as muscle soreness post workout, and stretching doesn't use as much time or money as a massage. Ankle weights can be used to enhance some stretching positions.
Stretching cold muscles will increase your injury risk. Always warm up your muscles for five minutes with walking while making arm circles or by doing jumping jacks. Your warm-up needs to include upper- and lower-body movements, so all muscles are adequately warmed before starting stretching.
How to Stretch
Hold stretches for 15 to 30 seconds, and repeat each stretch two to four times. Inhale prior to initiating the stretch, and exhale when you have stretched as far as you can. This will often allow you to gain a slightly better stretch. Never hold your breath. Do not bounce during a stretch; go as far as you can and hold it. You should feel a noticeable stretch. While this may not be comfortable, it should not be painful. Pain during stretching indicates you are pushing too far, so back off if you feel pain. As soon as the stretch is released, the discomfort should immediately disappear. If it remains throughout the day, you have overstretched.
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The quadriceps muscle is a combination of four muscles on the front of your thigh. Portions of these muscles cross both the hip and the knee joint. The muscles need to be stretched across both joints. Lie on your stomach on a firm surface. Bend your knee toward your buttock with the weight strapped onto your ankle. The farther your foot falls toward your butt, the greater the stretch. The ankle weight will aid gravity in pushing your foot closer to your butt. You can also use your hand to pull your foot down farther. Make sure your opposite leg is flat on the floor, and don't allow your back to arch as you pull your foot forward. You should feel a pull along the front of your thigh.
Hip Flexor Stretch
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You can also stretch your hip flexor muscles, which include part of your quadriceps and your illiopsoas, by lying on your back at the foot of your bed. Both legs should be hanging off the bed. Bend both knees into your belly. Attach the ankle weight to your right leg and slowly lower your right leg toward the floor, keeping your knee bent. Use your hands to hug your left knee to your body. The ankle weight will aid in pulling your right leg closer to the floor. You will feel this stretch in your groin area.
Mary Tolley Rhodes has been a practicing physical therapist since 2000, working in various settings across the southeastern United States. She serves as the chairwoman of the West Virginia Physical Therapy Association's Education Committee. Rhodes holds a master's degree in physical therapy from West Virginia University.