It’s not good to have tight muscles. This is because they will restrict movement and be more likely to suffer tears and strains. In order to keep our muscles flexible, we need to stretch them to their full length regularly. For most people, this isn’t something that happens in normal everyday activity. In fact, many people have jobs in which they don’t move much at all, or use the same muscles in repetitive movements. Regular stretching will therefore help to stop muscles getting tight and problems developing. This quick full body stretching routine includes stretches for all the muscle groups that are commonly tight.
Maintenance vs developmental stretching
The difference between maintenance and developmental stretching is very simple. With maintenance stretching, you’re aiming to maintain your muscle length (to stop your muscles from getting shorter and tighter). With developmental stretching you’re aiming to increase your muscle length (to become more flexible than you currently are).
There are some advanced stretching techniques for developmental stretching, such as PNF stretching. However, for a quick stretching routine at home you only need to be concerned with how long you hold stretches for. If you want to maintain muscle length, then hold the stretch for 15-20 seconds. To develop your flexibility, hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds.
The stretch reflex
If muscles stretch beyond their maximum length, then they tear. So they have a protective mechanism which detects stretching and fires a reflex action to prevent stretching too far. When you’re doing developmental stretching, you may find that you initially feel a resistance to the stretch that gradually eases. This is the stretch reflex relaxing. If this happens, you can – very carefully – try to stretch a little further.
Quick stretching routine
You can do this routine any time that you have warm muscles – either from exercise or general daily activity such as household chores. See the bottom of the post to download a printable chart of the stretches.
These stretches are suitable for both developmental and maintenance stretching. Just remember the hold times:
Maintenance stretching: hold for 15-20 seconds
Developmental stretching: hold for at least 30 seconds
You’ll need a cushioned surface for the stretches where you’re down on the floor. If you don’t have an exercise mat, then use a folded blanket or quilt.
#1 Chest stretch
- Stand with your feet about hip distance apart and clasp your hands behind your back, so that you feel a stretch across your chest.
- Make sure that you don’t arch your lower back.
#2 Calf stretch
- Stand with feet pointing forwards, about hip distance apart, front knee bent and back leg straight.
- Press the back heel into the floor to feel the stretch on the back calf.
#3 Hip flexor stretch
- Get into the position shown, back knee on the floor, front knee bent and directly over the heel.
- Ease the back leg out behind until you feel a stretch on the muscles at the top of the back thigh.
#4 Hamstring stretch
- Lie on the floor with one leg bent, foot flat on the floor. Gently pull the other leg towards you, holding onto it with both hands either on the calf or above the knee.
- Hold the position when you feel the stretch along the back of the leg.
- If you aren’t able to reach the leg with your hands, use a band or scarf looped over your foot, as shown.
#5 Glute stretch
- From the hamstring stretch position, bend your top leg and rest your foot on the knee of the other leg.
- Hold onto the underneath leg and gently pull it towards you to feel the stretch in the top leg.
#6 Back stretch
- Get into an all-4 kneeling position and stretch your spine upwards towards the ceiling.
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