Friday, September 6, 2013
Flexibility -- along with aerobic exercise, strength-training and endurance -- is one important component of a well-rounded workout regimen. Maintaining and improving your flexibility can help prevent joint pain and stiffness, reduce your risk for lower back pain and prevent injuries. Whether you're a new exerciser or a regular at the gym, adding flexibility exercises to your workout routine can be a smart idea.
Just moving every day can help you maintain some flexibility, but true flexibility activities take your joints through their complete range of motion, stretching them in all directions. If you regularly stretch before and after a workout, you're already doing flexibility exercises, even if you don't realize it. Flexibility exercises are low intensity, so if your movements hurt, stop. Pain is a clear sign you're pushing your joints farther than you should.
For best results, aim to incorporate flexibility activities into your workout at least two to three times a week. Just as important as how often you add flexibility training to your workout is how long you hold stretches while you're doing them. Aim to hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds, increasing the duration as you build your flexibility.Types of Exercises
Flexibility exercises come in two different types: exercises you do standing or sitting up, often called standing stretches, and stretches that you must lie on the ground to perform correctly. Standing exercises include hamstring stretches, which stretch the muscles in the back of your thigh, and triceps stretches, which stretch the muscles in the back of your arm. Floor exercises include quadriceps stretches, which stretch the muscles in the front of your thighs, and shoulder rotations, which stretch your shoulder muscles. If you're new to stretching exercises, learning how to do them properly is important. Make an appointment with a physical trainer to learn proper form, or sign up for a class such as yoga or Pilates that emphasizes stretching.
As long as you listen to your body and stop if you feel pain, stretching is safe for most people. But if you have had a knee or hip replacement or if you have a condition such as arthritis that affects your joints, it's important to talk to your health care provider about the safest way to improve your flexibility. While you're stretching, resist the urge to bounce -- it can tear your muscles. Instead, hold your stretch steady. Warm up with a few minutes of walking in place before you start flexibility exercises, and don't forget to breathe normally during your stretch.