“Stretching should form a fundamental part of any exercise program and not just as part of the warm up.”
Do you want to improve your cardiovascular fitness? Do you want to become stronger? Of course you do. Your goals are one reason you are reading a blog on the website of a fitness center.
A large percentage of people who pursue an exercise program pursue their fitness and strength goals with vigor. They run, they bicycle, or they swim. They also lift weights, do pushups, or pullups.
Many of these would-be fitness buffs, though, have an incomplete exercise program because they rarely, if ever, stretch their muscles. That’s a big mistake.
How To Do Flexibility Exercises
Stretching and flexibility exercises are two terms that are interchangeable. They don’t directly improve your heart’s fitness or your strength, but they do so indirectly by making your muscles more prepared for exercise. When your muscles are more prepared, you are more apt to be able to exercise effectively and less apt to be hurt. Thus, you can do more cardio and strength exercises.
“Stretching may help people jump higher, lift heavier weights, run faster, and throw farther,” says the “Starting an Exercise Program” report. “Flexibility is important for comfortable performance of everyday physical activities. Although stretching itself does not strengthen muscles, it can increase the area over which the muscle contracts, which allows muscle force to be exerted more effectively and with less risk of injury.”
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends three kinds of exercises — cardio, strength, and flexibility. The ACSM emphasizes that stretches should be part of a program that includes all three kinds of exercises. They should be performed at least two to three days per week, says the ACSM.
The ACSM seems to be addressing skeptics of flexibility exercises when it says in its report that it is now recommending stretching because there is “growing evidence of its multiple benefits.”
Those benefits include:
- Improving the range of motion (ROM) of muscles. Aging can reduce ROM to the point where exercising becomes more difficult, but flexibility exercises can reduce the impact of age.
- Improving muscular performance. This benefit can improve your running, cycling, swimming, weightlifting, etc.
- Preventing injuries to muscles. This benefit can prevent the end of an exercise program.
The ACSM recommends static stretching and dynamic stretching. Static stretching consists of stretching muscles when the body is at rest. Exercise experts recommend stretching a muscle as far as possible and holding that muscle in that position for 30 to 120 seconds. Dynamic stretching consists of stretching while you’re moving. It includes exercises that involve continual movement of your arms or legs rather than holding a position.
Sports Fitness Advisor’s “Flexibility Exercises” reportshows people how to do the following upper body flexibility exercises:
- Shoulder & Chest
- Arm Across Chest
- Triceps Stretch
And it shows people how to do the following lower body flexibility exercises:
- Glute Stretch
- Abductor Stretch
- Single Leg Hamstring
- Standing Quadriceps
- Standing Calf
The American Heart Association also has a flexibility exercise report that shows via diagrams how you should do certain exercises. The exercises include:
- The Torso Stretch
- The Torso Twist
- The Neck Stretch
- The Seated March
- The Quadriceps Stretch
- The Hamstring Stretch
- The Calf Stretch
It’s important to understand that stretches can be performed on days when you’re not doing any other exercises and can also be performed before and/or after cardio and strength training exercises.
“Stretching after exercise is preferred because tissues stretch more effectively when warmed,” says the “Starting an Exercise Program” report. “Stretching also can be done between exercises, but stretching between exercises can decrease strength during exercise, thus resulting in the need to decrease exercise intensity (such as the weight or number of repetitions during strength training).”