01 May 2017
5 min read
I pride myself on being a good 'stretcher'. One of my greatest childhood achievements was topping the 'Sit and Reach' section of my class's annual fitness test. However, with time, my stretches have been overshadowed by other activities such as cardio and are usually limited to my workout sessions. Recently, after a rewarding stretch session with a yoga practitioner, I started incorporating stretches into my days and evenings; and I can totally vouch for the fantastic results that they provide.
The benefit of stretching goes beyond the prevention of injuries during workouts. Here are some of its other advantages.
(a) Enhance flexibility
Flexibility, besides helping us achieve greater endurance and stamina, has many other advantages. For instance, greater flexibility will allow you to perform a deeper squat, which means a more effective burn from that move. Flexibility also reduces risks of injuries while exercising or while doing daily activities.
(b) Better posture
Better posture is crucial, but we often tend to overlook it. Good posture prevents backache and muscle pain, reduces stress on the ligaments that hold the spinal joints together and gives your body a slimmer appearance. Stretching helps loosen up muscles and makes them stronger for better posture.
Studies have shown that stretching not only reduces tension physically, but also mentally. On my friend's recommendation, I end my daily routine with a backward plow fold, and it is just amazing how relaxing it is. Stretching increases the blood flow to our muscles and brain, which gives an added boost to our mood, making us feel more relaxed.
Need an alternative to caffeine for a pick-me-up? Stretch. Tired, tight muscles drain energy, which subsequently make us feel uneasy and lethargic. Stretching encourages the release of endorphins, which will effectively reinvigorate you.
TRY: Start your day with a few stretches that can be done on the bed before you get up.
Please note that you should not force a stretch, and it should be something you can ease yourself into. If you feel any pain when doing it, then you are doing it wrong. Make sure that you correct your form. Here are some stretches that you should try.
i) Backward plow fold
One of the most effective moves that works wonders for the neck, shoulder and back, this yoga pose is highly recommended if you work behind a desk.
TRY: Start by lying on your back, with bent knees and feet on the floor, with arms on either side. Soften knees and press arms into the ground as you reach your feet up toward the ceiling. Hold the position and breathe. Once you are ready and comfortable, lower your leg and allow your feet to fall behind you such that you feel a good stretch on your neck. Stretch your feet all the way to the ground, pressing your hands firmly onto the floor. Hold the plow pose for at least three deep breaths.
ii) Lying hug stretch
Continue with this stretch after your plow fold.
TRY: While on your back, tuck your knees towards your chest and grab your calves as you raise your head to meet your knees. Hold this position for at least five deep breaths. Keep your abs tight, and stop if you feel an uncomfortable strain on your neck.
iii) The cat stretch
Aka the cat and cow stretch.
TRY: Start on all fours, bent knees and flat hands on the floor. Look down at the space between your hands and take a deep breath. As you exhale, pull your belly in, round your spine, lower back, shoulders and neck while letting your head drop. Hold for 10 to 12 seconds and return to starting position. Move into the cow stretch by arching your back and sticking your chest out. Hold for 10 to 12 seconds and return to starting position. Get back to the cat pose. Alternate between these two at least three to five times.
iv) Sumo squat stretch
Great for your spine and shoulders!
TRY: Start with your feet wide, toes slightly facing outward, and place hands on knees. Lean forward as you bend your knees (make sure they do not go beyond your toes). Bring one shoulder toward the floor as you look over your opposite shoulder and exhale simultaneously. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.
v) Bridge pose
You can choose to hold the pose or move in and out of it while alternating with your breathing.
TRY: Lie straight on your back, bend the knees, with your feet flat on the floor, knees pointing up to the ceiling, arms alongside your body. Press into your arms and with your feet still positioned on the ground, move the hips away from the floor, opening your chest. Hold this pose for 10-15 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat at least for five breaths.
-Before stretching, warm up with a light walk or jog or march for about five minutes.
-Hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds. Deepen each stretch as you exhale.
-For best results, make a commitment and stretch regularly.