Beneficial Stretching Exercises

Your lifestyle regardless of what you choose, you have probably heard how important it is to stretch. This is extremely truthful as stretching increases the blood flow in your muscles and helps your joints to exploit their full range of motion. It also improves your posture and enhances your athletic performance making sure you reduce risk of pain and injury.

Knowing the importance of stretching is not sufficient when practising yoga or starting a flexibility routine. In order to make your exercises comfortable and safe, you need to know exactly which muscles are affected with each stretch and how to perform them correctly. Knowing this allows you freedom in choosing the stretches that meet your goals and body type correctly.

If you feel pain in some part of the body, this knowledge can help you to locate the troubled muscle with greater precision and change your exercises accordingly, avoiding any injury or over straining.

Stretching exercises should be felt in the belly of the muscles. Pressure or strain on your joints is a sign that you are doing something wrong, or pushing yourself too far. It is also important to focus on your breathing and try going through the movements with ease.

Stretching doesn’t matter how long it takes you to do. It is far better to turn your attention to feeling how your muscles ease back in their natural length, in a resting position. This can take anywhere from 5 to 30 seconds. You should always step back and evaluate. If a specific stretch is too tiresome, or fails to deliver any results, do not keep on practising it just for the sake of it. Just try a different variation.

1. Camel Pose

Targeted muscles: Rectus Abdominis and External Obliques.

This requires good flexibility. Avoid it otherwise. Sit on your heels place hands on your feet behind you, push your hips up and forward. Avoid extensive pressure on your lumbar spine. People with neck problems should avoid dropping their head back.

2. Wide Forward Fold

Targeted muscles: Adductors.

Excellent exercise for opening the hips and stretching the adductors and hamstrings  This starts with your knees bent and spine straight.  When you start feeling your muscles relax, start to straighten your legs slowly. Then, rounding out your beck, reach for your feet.  Wrapping your palms around the balls, pull lightly. This will relax your calf muscles.  If you have a problem reaching your feet, help yourself by using a belt or towel. Another variation of this stretch involves lying on the back with your feet going up the wall.

3. Frog Pose

Targeted muscles: Adductors.

Try to be on a soft surface while performing as this is a deep groin stretch and it puts considerable pressure on the knees. Resting on your hands and knees slowly widen the knees like a frog, until you feel your groin muscles fully stretched but not strained. You can add variations by gently pushing your hips back and forward.

4. Wide Side Lunge Pose

Targeted muscles: Adductors.

Stand with both feet forward and legs in a wide stance as straight as you can. Slowly walk your hands to your right foot while bending the right knee. Rotate the toes of your still extended left leg towards the ceiling. At the end of the pose you should be seated into your right hip. Remember to keep the right foot flat on the ground.

5. Butterfly Stretch

Targeted muscles: Adductors.

Sit on the floor and bring the soles of your feet together. Sit with a firm back. You can try to extend this stretch by applying pressure on your knees with your hands. At the same time, try pulling your feet closer to your body. The closer they are, the more you stretch your groin muscles.  After this, move the feet slightly forward and away from your hips and gently round your upper body, relaxing your back muscles.

6. Forearm Extensor Stretch

Targeted muscles: Forearm Extensor.

Performed in a standing position. Pack your shoulders down and back. Then, extend your left arm and rotate the shoulder in the optimal position to stretch the forearm muscle. After relaxing your body in this position, begin the stretch by applying downward pressure on the palm with your opposing hand. The end position of your palm can progress until the tips of your fingers touch together in a shape of a tea cup.

7. Lateral Side Flexion of the Neck

Targeted muscles: Sternocleidomastoid “SCM”.

Ideally performed on a chair. Slowly drop your neck towards the shoulders, while at the same time keeping it as long as possible. Make sure not to collapse your cervical spine in the process. For added stretch try grabbing the bottom of the seat. By creating this consistent tension down the arm and neck you target the upper traps.

8. Neck Rotation Stretch

Targeted muscles: Sternocleidomastoid “SCM”.

This involves slow rotation of your neck. Keep your chin slightly elevated to isolate the SCM.  For a deeper stretch, put the opposite hand from the direction that you are rotating on your chin and apply slight pressure.

9. Neck Extension Stretch

Targeted muscles: Sternocleidomastoid “SCM”.

Perform in a standing position. Place your hands on your hips and tilt your head back. Keeping your spine long, make sure you’re cervical spine isn’t collapsing.

10. Lateral Side Flexion of the Neck with Hand Assistance

Targeted muscles: Sternocleidomastoid “SCM” and Upper Trapezius.

Performed in a similar way as the Lateral Side flexion of the neck, in this case you help yourself by putting the hand on the top of your head and gently pulling.

11. Half Kneeling Quad / Hip Flexor Stretch

Targeted muscles: Psoas and Quadracep.

Perform in a half kneeling position. Slowly bring your right hip forward until you feel a good stretch in the front of your hip. Grab your back foot with the same arm squeeze the glute increasing the stretch on your Hip Flexors.

12. Forearm Extensor Stretch

Targeted muscles: Forearm Extensor.

Performed in a standing position. First, pack your shoulders down and back. Then, extend your left arm and lift it slightly up rotating the shoulder in the optimal position to stretch the forearm muscle. After relaxing your body in this position, begin the stretch by applying downward pressure on the palm with your opposing hand. The end position of your palm can progress until the tips of your fingers touch together in a shape of a tea cup.

13. Lateral Shoulder Stretch

Targeted muscles: Side Deltoid.

Perform in a standing position. First, pack your shoulders down and back. Then lift your arm up and across your chest. Apply pressure to your arm to increase the stretch on your shoulder. Then switch arms.

14. Standing Assisted Neck Flexion Stretch

Targeted muscles: Trapezius Muscle.

Performed in a standing position. First, put your feet together. With your spine long, slowly sit your hips back, rounding your upper back. Assist the stretch by wrapping your hands up and around your head and gently pulling forward, tucking your chin to your chest.

15. Lat Stretch with Spinal Traction

Targeted muscles: Latissimus Dorsi.

Performed on a bar. Take a firm grip on the bar with your hands extended upwards and slightly open. Slowly lift your feet off the ground. You should feel the stretch should in your lats and chest. Taking your feet off the ground will result in slight feeling of traction in your lumbar spine. You should avoid this stretch if you have injury or have impingement of the shoulder.

16. Lat Stretch at the Wall

Targeted muscles: Latissimus Dorsi.

In a standing position place both hands on the corner of a wall or a post. Keep your spine long and slowly push your hips out to the side. People with lower back problems should avoid this stretch.

17. Child’s Pose

Targeted muscles: Latissimus Dorsi.

Kneel down on your hands and knees. Slowly bring your hips back until your forehead touches the floor. With your hands extended in front of you, relax the back muscles leaning on the forehead. If you have any difficulties, slightly open your knees, getting a better stretch in your hips. With your upper back in a shape of an arch, rotate your shoulders stretching your lats and chest muscles.

18. Standing Calf Stretch

Targeted muscles: Soleus and Gastrocnemius.

Performed on a rack or on the edge of a stair step. Gently rotate your ankles in and out. Feel the stretch in the calf muscles.

19. Front Split

Targeted muscles: Psoas and Hamstring.

An advanced stretch. Not advisable for beginners and should be not be taken lightly by anyone, especially if you have any hip problems. Position your body in a kneeling lunge. Place one foot in front of you, and the other behind. Start gently sliding down as far as you can go. A support of a chair can help in the beginning, until your hip flexors and hamstrings release.

20. Seated Forward Fold / Seated Toe Touch

Targeted muscles: Hamstrings and Calfs.

Sit into your seat bones and extend the legs forward. Move your hands towards the toes until you can touch them. Pinch the toes with your fingers and hold. If necessary, bend your knees. By repeating this stretch, your flexibility will improve, and straighten fully eventually. It is important to keep the spine as straight as possible. Another variation of this stretch involves lying on the back with feet going up the wall.

21. Single Leg Forward Bend

Targeted muscles: Hamstrings.

Start in a standing position with one foot slightly in front of the other. Put your hands on your hips, and start bending from the hips, remember to keep your back straight. For the correct pose, both toes should remain at the same level.

22. Deep Squat

Targeted muscles: Glutes.

The effect of this exercise is felt on all areas of your body. If your knees are bad, or you have problems keeping your heels levelled to the ground, prepare your squat before proceeding. In a standing position place your feet shoulder width apart, start to lower your body into the deep squat. When you reach full position, put your arms between your legs, with palms lying on the floor. Apply gradual pressure with your elbows to the inside of your knees, while remaining seated on your hips and heels. Another variation of this position involves lying on the back with feet going up the wall.

23. Seated Half King Pigeon Pose

Targeted muscles: Glutes.

Position yourself in a seated position and start slowly pulling your leg to your chest. At the same time, rotate your hip, but remember to keep your spine straight.

24. Standing Calf Stretch at the Wall

Targeted muscles: Soleus and Gastrocnemius.

Stand in front of a wall in lunge position with your front leg bent at the knee, back foot extended backwards and slightly turned out. Gradually lower your back heel to the ground and feel the stretch in your calf muscles.

25. Lateral Flexion at the Wall

Targeted muscles: External Obliques.

Keep your spine long and slowly push your hips out to the side. People with lower back problems should avoid this stretch.

26. Supine Twist

Targeted muscles: Glutes and External Obliques.

This exercise is especially recommendable for people suffering from sciatica pain.  It begins by laying flat on your back. After relaxing the body, bring one leg across the other, at the same time rotating your upper body and head in the opposite direction. Use your hand to hold your knee for additional pressure. A crucial element in this stretch is the use of breathing to open the rib cage and hip area, while at the same time avoiding pressure on the lower back. If this stretch proves too difficult for you, perform the rotation using both legs, with the knees lying on top of each other. When performing this stretch with your knees higher you will feel the stretch more on the upper spine and when the knees are lower, the stretch is felt on the lumbar spine.

27. Lateral Flexion with a Dowel

Targeted muscles: External Obliques and Latissimus Dorsi.

In a standing position, raise your arms up, slightly open and holding a dowel. Start flexing laterally, while at the same time maintaining your spine upward. People with lower back problems should avoid this stretch.

28. Triangle Pose

Targeted muscles: External Obliques.

Take a wide stance rotated at the hips. Your front foot should be straight, and the other at 90 degrees. Rotate your head backwards and lower your arm so that it touches the front calf, while the other is raised in the air. Your gaze should be directed towards the raised palm.

29. Chest Stretch at the Wall

Targeted muscles: Pectorals.

 Face the wall and place your hand on it with the thumbs up. Slowly rotating your body, turn away from the wall. The stretch should be felt in the belly of the chest muscle.  Feeling it in your shoulder joints would mean that you’ve gone too far.

30. Assisted Chest Stretch

Targeted muscles: Chest and Latissimus Dorsi.

For performing this exercise you’ll need a partner. First, lay down on the floor with your palms facing up. Let your partner take you by the hands and sit in a deep squat. You’ll feel your chest muscles and lats stretching nicely. At the same time you should feel slight traction in your spine. This stretch should be avoided in cases of shoulder impingement.

31. Seated Half Pigeon Variation

Targeted muscles: Anterior Tibialis.

Start in a seated position, with your feet in front of you. Place one hand behind you, and rotate your hip placing one foot above the knee. Slowly lean forward, increasing the stretch on your hip, and begin the movement by hinging at the hips.

32. Supine Shoulder External Rotation Stretch

Targeted muscles: Subscapularis.

Lay flat on the floor and start raising your arms to the side. Bend your elbow at 90 degrees. Gradually rotate the whole hand in your shoulder while maintaining the angle, and lower it with its back on the floor. If at the end it still hovers above the floor, there is tightness in your rotator cuff and some other muscles responsible for rotation.

33. Down Dog Variation at the Wall

Targeted muscles: Pectorals and Latissimus Dorsi.

Stand in front a wall or rack so that in a bent position your body can be parallel to the ground. Assume this position resting on the hips with your spine straight. Place your arms on the wall or rack. When you have settled into position, push your chest downward and create a slight alcove with your lower back. Stretch your lats and chest muscles. Try to keep your legs straight, but if you have tight hamstring don’t hesitate to bend them at the knees.

34. Assisted Chest Stretch Variation

Targeted muscles: Pectorals. Another stretch that requires a partner.

First with your partner, lay down on the floor with your palms facing down. Let your partner pull back your hands and feel a deep stretch in your chest muscles. This stretch should be avoided in cases of shoulder impingement.

Source: www.gymguider.com

 

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