Stretching is an often-overlooked component of physical fitness that can help you perform better while exercising, reduce stress, prevent injury and improve flexibility. Stretching can help loosen up your muscles before and after you work out, as well as ease muscle tension and soreness. If you are a beginner, 10 stretches can work your major muscle groups; do a stretching routine three times a week for best results. Move, a fitness program of the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs, recommends that beginners perform three to five reps of each stretch at a low intensity.
A side stretch will work the intercostal muscles between your ribs as well as your lats and external obliques. Stand with your feet together and lace your fingers together. Raise your hands above your head and focus on lengthening your arms, torso and legs. Slowly bend to one side and hold for five seconds. Return to your starting position then bend to the other side.
The hamstring stretch targets the back of the thighs. Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet resting on the floor. Slowly straighten one leg, lifting it into the air toward your body. When you stretch as far as you can without bending the leg, hold it for five seconds. Lower the leg and repeat on your other leg.
To stretch the side of your neck, stand with your arms at your sides. Slowly turn your head to one side and hold for five seconds. Return your head to face forward then repeat on the other side. To stretch the back of your neck, stand with your arms hanging by your sides. Slowly bring your head down toward your chest and hold for five seconds.
To stretch your triceps, stand with your feet hip-width apart. Bend one arm at the elbow and use it to bring your other, straightened arm across your chest. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on other arm. To stretch your triceps and shoulders, stand with your back straight and bend at the waist. Lace your fingers together, bringing your arms above your head and stretching toward the ground. Hold for 10 seconds.
A gentle stretch can effectively loosen the calf muscles. Stand with your feet together facing a wall, about arm's-length away. Rest your hands on the wall, keeping your arms straight. Bring one foot back, keeping it straight. Allow your front knee to bend. Hold for five seconds. Repeat on the other leg.
The largest muscles in your body are the quadriceps in the upper legs. To stretch, stand about arm's-length away from a wall, with your hands resting on the wall. Bend your left knee to bring your foot up behind you, and bring your right hand back to grasp your foot. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on other leg.
Leg and Lower Back Stretch
You can stretch the lower back and legs simultaneously. Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Bend one knee, resting the foot along the inner part of your straight leg. Lean forward to stretch over your straight leg, keeping your back straight. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other leg.
Upper Body Stretch
To stretch muscles in your upper body, stand with your knees about hip-width apart. Bring your bent arms above your head and hold one elbow with the hand of your opposite arm. Pull your elbow behind your head as you slowly lean to the side. Hold 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Shoulder and Arm Stretch
Target the shoulders and arms with a single stretch. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your right hand on your left shoulder, with both arms bent. Pull your right elbow across your chest with your left hand. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on the other side.
The ankle might not be the first area to come to mind when you think of stretching, but it, too, can benefit from regular stretching. Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding onto a rail or solid object for balance. Lift one foot off the ground and rotate your foot and ankle eight to 10 times clockwise, then eight to 10 times counterclockwise. Repeat on the other side.
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This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.