Stretching for Flexibility

Ah, the relaxing bliss of stretching.   Strength training I do to get stronger, walking I do because I think it’s silly to always drive, but stretching?    Stretching is a joy.

  • Stretching helps me to relax.
  • Stretching helps relieve muscle soreness.  I did chair squats Sunday night; Monday my leg muscles were a bit sore.   Stretching those muscles Monday morning* hurt a bit during the stretching, but after stretching I could walk without pain.
  • Stretching helps increase flexibility and my range of motion.  If I’m not stretching regularly it gets harder for me to bend in ways I don’t normally.  It’s like my body gets stuck in ruts based on what I normally do.  Stretching can help me get out of the ruts.

What I don’t do is stretch immediately before or after strength training or aerobics, unless I specifically feel “tight”.  Instead, I stretch in the morning, when I’m sore, or before bed.

The biggest reason to stretch, I think, is to increase or maintain your flexibility.

How do I stretch?  I do a basic routine most mornings.  I also do some general stretch-however-the-spirit-moves-me, including yoga poses, when I’m feeling stiff at work and before bed.   I do have some specific adaptations of common stretches that you might like, so I’m going to put them here, but this is by no means complete.

Quad stretch (illustration) – my main problem with this stretch is that my thighs and calves are big enough that I have trouble getting my foot up to my hand.   I have 3 adaptations for this one, using props.  If you haven’t done this stretch in a while you might want to try a non-standing version first.

  1. Pillows: I lay on my right side on the bed, with a pillow behind my buttocks.  I slowly lift up my left foot to rest on the pillow, then lean back and grab my foot.  I hold it for a while, depending on how it feels.   I then roll over, reposition the pillow, and stretch the other leg.
  2. Yoga Strap: I use the strap to pull my foot closer to my buttocks.  This can be done laying facedown, on one’s side, or standing.  This is probably the most adaptable of these, since the hand doesn’t actually have to touch the foot.
  3. Furniture:  We have a sturdy sectional sofa in the middle of the TV room.  I stand about a foot behind the couch, with my back to the back of the couch, and lift my foot onto the back of the couch.  Then I lean back to grab my foot—which puts me in the traditional pose. (I also use the back of the couch for standing hamstring stretches.)

What I generally don’t do is sit with one leg tucked under me and lean back, mainly because it tends to twist my knee and not get a uniform stretch on the quads.

Knee-to-chest (illustration) – my belly gets in the way on this one.  I open my lower back in several ways:

  1. I scoot forward on a chair, legs apart, and reach down toward the floor.
  2. Sit on the floor or bed, spread legs apart, and lean forward.
  3. Lay on my back, bring my legs up similar to knee-to-chest — only my knees are off to each side of my belly.  Originally I’d use the yoga strap to hold my legs in position, but now I can just use my hands.

Child’s pose (illustration) – again, my belly gets in the way, so I widen my knees to give it room to go.  I got this from Yoga for Round Bodies, but others teach it too.

Do you like to stretch?  Why/why not?  Do you make adaptations?

*It’s often been suggested that one should stretch immediately after working out to prevent soreness, but studies recommend a warm-up and cool-down is better.

6 thoughts on “Stretching for Flexibility

  1. I loooooove stretching– partly because I’ve always been fat, but I’ve always been flexible, so it was the one area in PE where I felt like I was on par with everyone else. Mostly, though, because it feels good. There are few things nicer than a really good hammie or lower back stretch.

    • I started stretching more when I played soccer in grade school. After a while I found I wasn’t comfortable if I didn’t stretch my legs every day or two.

      But yes, being flexible has all sorts of uses ;)

  2. I never liked to stretch, but it’s growing on me.—maybe because I’m exercising because I like it, and not just to get it over with so I can check it off on my list.

    I do the usual stuff as part of my lifting routine—quad stretch (modified with the yoga straps, though I’m going to try your method), groin stretch, lower back, obliques, etc.—but right before I go to bed on lifting days, I do the first half of Yoga for the Rest of Us, which really seems to have helped my calves and ankles.

    While I’m at work, writing, or otherwise sitting down for a while, every once in a while I’ll do some of the same exercises so I don’t get stiff when I finally get up.

  3. Any suggestions for how to adapt Exercise 8B from Chart 1 of the XBX program? (Image with text is linked to my name, in this comment)

    “Sit on floor, knees bent, feet on floor, hands clasped about knees, head bent forward, and body relaxed,”

    With my knees bent as shown, I need my hands behind me or I topple backwards. Even if I didn’t, I couldn’t get my head far enough forward to rest on my knees, as shown.

    I could skip it entirely, but it does have some purpose, or it wouldn’t be included — XBX is rather a “condensed fitness” program, supposed to be done in 15 minutes per day, so they wouldn’t have included a bunch of stuff just to pad it out,

    (If anybody else looks up the whole program, a Sanity Watchers warning: numbered pages 3 to 6, which are PDF pages 5-8, may be hazardous. Discard them. Remember that it is an old program, from a time when a woman was assumed to be a decorative and useful accessory for a man.)

    • “Sit on floor, knees bent, feet on floor, hands clasped about knees, head bent forward, and body relaxed,”

      With my knees bent as shown, I need my hands behind me or I topple backwards. Even if I didn’t, I couldn’t get my head far enough forward to rest on my knees, as shown.

      Well, to sit in that position without having to brace yourself with arms behind you, you could use a yoga strap or belt. You’d be using the strap around your legs to brace yourself instead.

      I think the leaning forward is to stretch your upper back, which you can do in other ways – such as sitting on the floor, legs not up to your chest, and hugging yourself (hands on opposite shoulders and squeeze) and leaning forward. You could come out of that and sit straight up as indicated.

      Does that help? Other ideas?

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