Stretching is most beneficial at the end of an exercise program, or after any period of physical activity. When we move, the fibres in our muscles contract or shorten and so, for optimum health and performance, should be stretched (to lengthen the fibres back out) as part of a cool down routine. This will help to prevent injury; however despite the commonly held belief, stretching is not a preventative method for reducing ‘DOMS ‘(delayed onset muscle syndrome) – more commonly known as sore muscles the next day!
Before exercising, it is recommended to warm up muscles with a walk, slow jog, or dynamic stretching routine.
For this series of stretches, all you need is an exercise matt, and a clear space in your home or backyard. It does involve some kneeling on all fours, so if this position is not available to you (or for a different focus), have a go at 11 standing stretches instead, which are suitable for all fitness levels and abilities.
- Focus on your breathing throughout this stretching routine.
- Aim to hold each stretch for 10-15 seconds.
- Breathe in as you move into the stretch and then slowly out.
Lower body twist
- lie on your back arms outstretched either side (palms up or down)
- gently lift both knees and lower to one side, then other.
Lower back/ hug stretch
- bring your knees in over your chest and gently tip from side to side.
Full length spine
- stretch out arms overhead and legs out.
- alternate with hug stretch (see video).
Cat and Camel
- kneel on all fours
- arch back up and look down between knees (breathe out)
- lift head and roll hips back (breathe in).
Prone to Child’s pose
- breathe in as you push off your hands
- exhale and lift your hips up and sit back on your heels.
- stretch your hands ahead of you on the floor
- inhale and ‘pull’ your body back up and then lie onto your front again (exhaling fully).
Quads (front upper thigh)
- lie on front, grab one foot and gently pull towards bum.
- relax with head on bent arm.
Glutes (buttocks) OPTION A
- seated position, cross one foot over opposite outstretched leg.
- slowly turn shoulders/ upper body in other direction.
Hamstring (back of upper leg) OPTION A
- sit with one leg stretched forward, other leg bent backwards.
- arms above head, then gently lean forward and slide hands towards ankle/ toe.
Adductors (inner thigh)
- sit tall (chest raised) with feet flat together
- gently push knees away towards floor.
Hamstrings (back of upper leg) OPTION 2
- lie on back and lift one leg up as straight as you can
- Increase stretch with a towel over toe and gently pull down.
Calves (back of lower leg)
- hold position from previous stretch
- lift heel and point toe towards knee.
- rotate ankle maintaining previous stretch
- breathe and feel the release in ankle joint.
Glutes (buttocks) OPTION B
- lying on back bring one knee in towards chest and cross other ankle over knee.
- pull first leg gently as you breathe in (release and breathe out)
- (optional: place a rolled up towel or (small diameter) foam roller to support neck and maintain good alignment).
- lie on side with knees slightly bent.
- inhale through nose as you draw top arm across body, exhale as you return to start position.
- perform 6-10 reps on each side, allowing your neck to rotate a little further and your arm to drop a little closer to the floor each time.
- lie on back with knees bent or legs straight (or lift onto a chair)
- place one hand on chest and other just below belly button.
*Diaphragmatic breathing technique: breathe in through the nose – your belly button should rise out as your diaphragm expands. Hold your breath for 3-5 secs (relax your shoulders). Exhale slowly through the mouth making a whooshing sound.