THE BEST TIME TO STRETCH

Most people need to stretch more. Even if you exercise regularly and include stretching in your workouts, you are probably only doing 40-60 minutes of stretching per week. Regular stretching will decrease risk of injury, enhance posture and function, and boost your athletic performance.

Here are some practical ways to get more stretching into your day.

1. STRETCH WHILE WATCHING TV

Most people watch at least a couple of hours TV per day, with the average being four hours per person. That’s a whole lot of additional time sat down. Why not use this time more constructively by stretching while you zone out in front of the tube? You can stretch most major muscle groups from the comfort of your sofa, and the TV provides a great distraction while you stretch.

If stretching during your favourite show is too invasive, try stretching during commercial breaks instead.

2. START AND END YOUR DAY WITH STRETCHING

Most exercise experts recommend that you stretch after a light cardio warm up. However, that’s part of the reason that many people find stretching impractical and time-consuming. There is nothing wrong with stretching cold muscles, providing you take it easy and ease into each stretch gradually. After all, dogs, cats and animals in the wild don’t do cardio before they stretch; they just get on with it!

Try to start and end your day with ten minutes of stretching. This will have minimal impact on your day, but will produce noticeable increases in flexibility. In ten minutes, you should be able to stretch at least five major muscle groups. Stretching is a good way to prepare your body for the day to come, and also get you ready for sleep. If you feel like you must warm up before stretching, a warm shower or bath prior is ideal.

3. DURING LONG PERIODS OF SITTING

Sitting is arguably the biggest threat to your posture and flexibility. Most people spend hours at a time locked into the same position, causing tightness in many crucial muscles including the hip flexors, hamstrings, abdominals, and pecs.

Break up every hour of sitting with a couple of minutes easy stretching, focusing on the muscles that prolonged sitting tends to affect. You can stretch right next to your desk and even while sitting in your chair. Five minutes every hour can add up to a whole lot of extra stretching every day.

4. FOCUS ON JUST A COUPLE OF MUSCLES

Most people have an all or nothing attitude to stretching, and will stretch every muscle in their body’s for the same length of time and at the same frequency. That’s a mistake. Some muscles are historically tighter than others, and some muscles don’t really need stretching at all. For example, if you can raise your hand to your mouth, or touch the back of your neck, your triceps are about as flexible as they need to be, and making them more flexible is just a waste of time.

Instead, choose 2-3 muscles that are particularly tight and focus on making them more flexible. For most people, those muscles will be the hip flexors, hamstrings, and pecs – the muscles adversely affected by prolonged sitting.

5. STRETCH NON-STRESSED MUSCLES DURING A REGULAR WORKOUT

It’s generally accepted that stretching the muscle group you are training can reduce force production, making you weaker between sets. For that reason, it’s not a good idea to stretch your pecs during your chest workout, or your hammies during your leg workout.

However, there is nothing wrong with stretching your other muscles between sets of your workout. For example, you could stretch your pecs on leg day, and your hip flexors on upper body day. By creating these strength training/stretch supersets, you can get a lot of stretching done without adding any extra time to your workout.

6. SET A 'STRETCHING TRIGGER'

This method works really well if you have one very tight muscle group, e.g. your chest. Find a trigger that you encounter several times a day and then stretch the selected muscle each time that trigger occurs. For example, every time your phone rings, stretch your pecs for 60 seconds after answering the call. This could add up to 10 minutes or more of stretching per day for the problematic muscle group.

7. YOGA OR STRETCH CLASS

Want to take it to the next level? Yoga can do wonders not just for flexibility, but also for mobility, balance and even strength. You can enrol in a class or even follow instructional videos online. Many gyms offer a stretch class which can help you to learn the best ways to stretch, how long to hold and little adjustments to make your stretching really effective.

Stretching is crucial for your posture, health and performance. Not stretching enough can cause you innumerable problems – both short term and long term. However, while stretching is far from exciting, it pays to find ways to make it more practical to do (and it can feel amazing).