Not many things pay off for the body as much as stretching. Nothing could be simpler or take less time. Alas, most Americans neglect stretching as part of an every day fitness program. Stretching boosts muscle flexibility, which in turn leads to decreased likelihood of injury, better muscle performance, and a sense of well-being that lasts for hours after you’ve finished.
Ideally, you should stretch several times each day. Stretching in the morning gets your body ready for the activities ahead. It also presents your brain with a focused, quiet activity than can result in a feeling of peace and lowering of anxiety levels. In the evening, stretching will help work out the kinks of a day’s wear and tear. Stretching and relaxing muscles before going to bed will lessen soreness after a hard day and will have you waking up feeling wonderful.
Finally, stretching is an unquestionable must prior to any vigorous physical activity to prevent injury and reduce post-activity soreness. 10-15 minutes is plenty of time for the morning, evening, or pre-activity stretch. The following stretches provide brief examples. An abundance of books and videos are available for more detail.
The most basic stretches can be performed while seated. Start with your neck. Look down at your stomach. Then slowly roll your head to the left, then back so you’re looking at the ceiling, to the right, and back down. You should feel the muscles in your neck stretching. A similar motion can be performed with the wrists. While seated, simply move your closed hand in a circle using your wrist. Then lift each leg, and draw the same circle with the feet around the ankle. Make 3-5 such circles in the clock-wise direction and then the counter-clockwise direction with your neck, both wrists and both ankles.
Move to the calf muscle. Find a wall, chair, stability ball, or something that you can safely lean on. While leaning comfortably against the object, move your right foot two feet back. Slowly bend your left knee so that your right ankle flexes. You should feel the muscle in the back of your lower right leg being stretched. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and release. Repeat the exercise with your left calf.
The best way to stretch the front of the upper leg (the quadriceps) is to lie down on a flat surface (floor, bed, mat, et cetera). While lying on your left side, with your left elbow on the surface, and your left hand supporting your head, pull your right foot up behind you, so that the knee is bent as far as possible. Reach back with your right hand and grab onto your right foot. Pull you foot towards your back until you feel the muscle stretching. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds. Perform the same stretch for your right leg. For a basic shoulder stretch, clasp your hands behind your back and slowly lift them upwards. You’ll feel the muscles in your shoulder stretching. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
Countless other stretches exist, but this schedule gives you a basic routine. Consult with your doctor and, if possible, a physical trainer to fine tune a “flex schedule” that’s right for you.