Stretching is an incredibly important part of exercise, and something that you should do regularly throughout your life as it helps minimise muscle tightening and restricted range of movement as you age. Stretching not only increases your flexibility and reduces the risk of injury - it also reduces muscle tension, helps circulation and increases energy levels.

Always warm up and stretch before undertaking any exercise, but it's also a good idea to stretch regularly even if you are not exercising. You naturally get the urge to stretch in mornings or when you're tired - why not simply do a range of stretches that work your entire body, instead of just your spine?

How to stretch safely
  • Do not bounce in your stretch
  • Make sure that increasing your stretch is a gradual movement
  • Take breaks between stretches; do one stretch, then move to another, and go back to the original one again. You should be able to stretch further than the first time you did the exercise.
  • Exhale when pushing further into the stretch
  • A stretching/burning pain in your muscles is ok, but if you start getting a sharp pain or any pain around your joints, stop immediately
  • Don't force your body to go too far - stretching involves pushing your body a little bit each day. Do not get frustrated and end up injuring yourself. 
Different stretches 

This diagram shows a range of stretches for your whole body.

 1) Chest: Clasp your hands behind your back and hold them to pull your chest apart. Raise your hands up (still clasped) as far as you can.
2) Upper back: Clasp your hands on front of you and keep your arms straight, raise your hands up to chest height and pull your shoulder blades apart.
3) Triceps: bend one arm and put it down the middle of your back. Either push near the elbow (not on) with the other arm, or bring it up the back and try to join your hands.
4) Calves: Stand in the lunge position - instead of bending the back leg, keep it straight with the heel on the floor.
5) Hamstring: Either lie on your back with your legs bend, and raise and straighten one leg, pulling it towards your chest with your arms (keeping it straight), or stay standing and put one straight leg on a chair (heel on the chair) and push down a little).
6) Quads: Stand up and bend one leg - using your hands, pull it up and towards your body. Keep your knees together.If you have balance problems, you can do this lying down.
7) Outer thigh: Lie on your back, with both legs bent and in the air. Cross your legs over, using the upper leg to push the lower leg to the opposite side.
8) Inner thigh: Stand with your legs just over shoulder-width apart. Bring your bodyweight over one foot by bending the leg, which stretches the opposite thigh.
9) Inner thighs: Lie on your back, bend your legs and bring your feet together, letting your legs fall apart. You may want to push a little near your knees (not on)
10) Lower back: Either lie on your back with your legs bent and let your lets fall to one side, and keep your shoulders flat on the floor and point your hands in the opposite direction to your legs, or lie on your back, bend your legs and clasp your hands behind your legs (you can do this with both legs together, or one by one).
11) Torso and quads: Sit up straight with your legs out straight in front of you. Bend one leg and bring it over the other. Look over the other shoulder, and use the opposite arm to the leg push it further across.

Make sure that you stretch both sides equally, and do not push on joints.

Do you have any other stretches that you do regularly?

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