High school and collegiate athletes might be surprised to learn that stretching for five to 10 minutes every day not only promotes flexibility and mobility, it also reduces physical and mental tension during the course of a long sports season and a grueling academic schedule. Devoting such a short amount of time to stretching your tense muscles lowers both physical and mental stress by enhancing blood flow to muscles and joints, loosening areas of tension and producing a calming effect for the mind.
Follow these stretching guidelines each day to get the most from your stretching routine.
- When you get up in the morning, walk around for five minutes. Or, if it’s later in the day, jog in place two to three minutes to warm up your muscles before stretching. This brief warm-up improves results and reduces the chance of injuring a cold muscle.
- Gradually stretch each muscle—never use bouncing or rapid movements—and hold each stretch for 10 to 20 seconds.
- Stretch to a point of tension, but not to where you feel pain. If you experience pain, stop immediately.
- Inhale and exhale as you stretch—don’t hold your breath. To reduce muscle tension, exhale as you move into or increase a stretch.
- Focus your mind on the muscle being stretched and feel the stretch without rushing. This will help you temporarily forget your worries and tensions—thereby flushing out both physical and mental stress!
- You can stretch whenever is convenient for you. Some athletes prefer stretching in the morning, while others do it later in the afternoon or evening to relieve muscle soreness or tension from prolonged sitting/standing or a hard day of training.
Below is a list of lower- and upper-body stretches that can be performed supine (lying on your back), seated or standing. Perform them during your five- to 10-minute routine or after a workout or game to improve recovery.
Lying on ground, slowly bring your arms over your head. Straighten your arms overhead and simultaneously extend your legs in the opposite direction to stretch your entire body.
Low Back Stretch
Lying on your back, bend your knees and pull them to your chest to stretch your lower back.
Lie on your back with both legs straight and your feet flexed. Flex your right hip to raise your right leg straight in the air. Grab your toes with your right hand and pull to stretch your hamstring and calf. Repeat with opposite leg.
Seated Groin Stretch
Sit on ground with your knees bent and the bottoms of your feet together. Press your knees toward the floor with your elbows, keeping your back straight to stretch your groin.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
Sit on ground with your legs straight and together. Bend at the hips and reach forward, attempting to grab your toes to stretch your hamstrings.
Standing Quad Stretch
Stand on your right leg, using a chair or wall for support if necessary. Bend your left leg and grasp your ankle with your left hand. Pull your ankle toward your left glute to stretch your quad, keeping your knees together. Perform stretch on opposite leg.
Grasp both door handles of an open door. Bend at the hips so your back is flat and parallel to the ground with your arms extended and in line with your back. Shift your weight backward to stretch your upper back.
Jim Carpentier is a certified strength and conditioning specialist, a New Jersey-licensed massage therapist and a health/fitness writer. He currently serves as associate health and wellness director at the Greater Morristown YMCA in Cedar Knolls, N.J.