Feature Articles: Exercise
Flexibility and Stretching
Regional Nutrition and Health Specialist in Camden County,
University of Missouri Extension
The most overlooked component of an exercise or fitness routine is flexibility and stretching. Most individuals concentrate on aerobic activities and strength or weight training activities, but skip the flexibility part. It takes very little time to include flexibility activities in your routine and are just as important as aerobic activities and strength training.
Flexibility relates to the range of motion of a particular joint and is different for all joints. For example, a person can have good shoulder flexibility and poor hip flexibility. The flexibility of a particular joint depends on many things, such as tightness or the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and the shape and size of the bones in that particular joint. Good flexibility involves being able to stretch, bend, and twist, without any stiffness, aching, or pain.
Flexibility decreases with age, so it is important to spend time enhancing and working on flexibility by doing simple stretches daily or a few times a week. You are never too old to work on increasing flexibility. In fact, stretching can help normal activities of daily living become easier, such as reaching up high to get something from a shelf, getting in and out of the car, or getting up and down from the floor or a chair.
Stretches that work the upper body and lower body are essential in a fitness routine. Stretches can be done before or after an exercise routine, on their own, or after the activities have been done. You should always do some warm-up before stretching. Stretching a muscle that hasn’t been warmed up could cause an injury. Stretches can be done in the morning, after sitting for long periods of time, or any other time, as long as a quick warm-up is done prior to stretching.
Stretches should be held for 20-30 seconds. If that seems too long, try holding each stretch for 10-15 seconds and then do the stretch again one more time. The longer you can hold a stretch, up to 30 seconds without bouncing, the more effective it will be. Stretches should not cause any pain, but you should be able to feel a slight pull or a discomfort. Remember to relax and breathe. Stretch both sides of your body equally and include stretches for your shoulders, arms, back, thighs, calves, hands, and neck.
You can do simple stretches for your wrists, arms, hands, or neck while sitting at your desk or while watching television. These activities are good for getting the blood pumping and making you feel energized and less tense.
If you aren’t sure which stretches to do, there are many websites available with pictures. Make sure the website is either from a reputable organization, a hospital, or a university. They will only recommend safe stretches and avoid the unsafe ones. Your local Extension office will be able to help you find information on stretching, or click on the links below.
Start the day with a stretch and enjoy increased flexibility!
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009