Flexibility is essential to a well-balanced fitness routine. When done properly, flexibility training can increase your range of motion around a joint, enhance your mobility, and make daily movements easier.
Flexibility training should be performed three to five times per week. Unlike strength training, there is no limit to the number of days you can perform flexibility training. Stretching can be done anytime you feel stiff and tight or just want to release a little tension. The ideal time to stretch during your workout session is at the end, when your muscles are warm and more pliable.
Just as you have to lift a challenging weight to improve strength, you need to stretch to a point of challenge to gain flexibility. All stretches should be done in a slow, controlled manner, holding just beyond the point of mild discomfort. You are elongating joints and muscles beyond their normal range of motion, so some mild discomfort is normal. However, you should not be in pain. If the feeling is dull and aching, you are at the right place. If the feeling is sharp and painful, you have gone too far.
Each stretch should be held for 15 to 30 seconds to allow adequate time for adaptation and flexibility improvements.
The goal of a stretching routine is to improve your overall flexibility. This can be done by completing 8-10 stretches that include the lower body, trunk, and extremities. Flexibility is joint specific, so you may find you have areas that are tighter than others. Spend extra time with those areas that feel the tightest. Incorporating stretching into your fitness routine can help improve the muscle imbalances you may have from daily activities, such as tight shoulders and hip flexors from sitting at a desk all day.
Sample Stretching Routine
Neck: Sitting upright, allow your neck and shoulders to relax and soften. Exhale as you bring your head to the right side by lowering your right ear toward your right shoulder. Feel the stretch along the left side of your neck. Repeat on left side.
Bicep and chest stretch: Stand tall, with your feet slightly wider than shoulders width and knees slightly bent. Clasp your hands behind your back with palms together. Straighten your arms, gently raising them away from your body.
Upper back stretch: Stand tall, with your feet slightly wider than shoulders width and knees slightly bent. Interlock your fingers and push your hands as far away from your chest as possible. Allow your upper back to relax. You should feel the stretch between your shoulder blades.
Hamstring stretch: Lay on your back with your legs bent. Raise your right leg and grab behind the back of the hamstring or calf. Pull your leg gently toward your body with each exhale. Repeat with left leg.
Lower back-cat stretch: Come to a tabletop position with your hips under your knees and hands under your shoulders. Starting with a flat back, drop your head downward, pushing your shoulder blades upward and outward as you elevate your upper back. Feel the stretch through the lower back. Return to starting position and perform in the opposite direction, pushing your chest downward as you gently arch your lower back.