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Try These Flexibility Stretches to Enhance Your Daily Workout

Try These Flexibility Stretches to Enhance Your Daily Workout

Having a flexible body is essential for everyday life, and particularly for exercise. Think of all the things you do throughout your day that cause your muscles to tighten or create discomfort: Being stuck behind a desk, standing for long periods of time, repetitive motions, driving long distances, and exercising without properly maintaining a limber body are all ways that keep you from having a well-balanced and efficient lifestyle.

To fully optimize your workout, it is necessary to be flexible in order to perform your exercises properly — by getting full range of motion in which your joints can potentially move. Here’s why:[1]

When we don’t stretch before and after a workout, our muscles hold onto toxins, we risk injury, recovery time takes longer, and our performance is decreased.

In order to prevent restrictive mobility, we must do flexibility stretches.[2] Common areas that need stretching and/or flexibility are the hips, back, knees, and ankles. In this article, you will see why it is not only important to stretch, but to balance the planes of motion in which our body parts move.

How To Stretch

Done consistently, the following flexibility stretches will enhance your workout, you will gain greater range of motion, improve balance, and recover more quickly for your next workout.

Typically, a static stretch should be held for 20-60 seconds (International Sports Sciences Association), remembering not to overstretch which can cause injury as overstretching can cause pulled muscles and tears.

In a comfortable stretch, you should feel just a slight pull without going beyond normal range of motion. Always be aware of your breathing during a stretch.

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For example, if you are doing a flexibility movement for the knee, just before you go into the stretch, take a deep breath and then exhale once you are into the stretch. Breathing is important as it relaxes the muscles and helps to loosen them.

Your body should be warm before stretching to increase blood flow. This can be a 3-minute ride on a stationary bike or slowly-controlled, 45-60 second body weight squats.

Hips Stretches

The hips tend to give us trouble when we get into our 40’s and 50’s, and the cause of pain is not always injury or over-use, but rather, lack of stretching in the hip flexor muscles.

Even if you’re not a sedentary person, you walk throughout your work day, climb stairs, or stand for long periods of time, you must keep your hips flexible to keep them from tightening which can cause other problems, like lower back pain. (Everything is connected.)

Oftentimes, people who are active tend to think that because they cycle, run, or perform other exercises that recruit the hip flexors, they don’t need to stretch because their hips are constantly moving; Not so. What people don’t recognize is that over time these and other movements create muscle imbalances, spasms, and affect posture.

When your hips are flexible, the exercises that recruit gluteal muscles, like the squat and lunge, have better control. Take a look at these 4 hip flexor stretches by Guerilla Zen Fitness:

Back/Spine Stretches

The back and abdominal muscles support the core and are necessary to have a strong gait. In order to have a strong back, you must open up your chest and sides of your back with various stretches.

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Sometimes, without noticing it, we rely on our back for a variety of movements, such as looking over our shoulder to pass safely in our vehicle, rising up from a chair, reaching up high for an object, etc.

These passive movements seem easy, but without a stable core, you’re left with a weak spine and the movements can become challenging over time.

Having a flexible spine and strong core is great for exercises like crunches, torso circles, side bends, lying leg raises, and sit-ups.

Here are 3 spinal flexibility stretches by Strength Side:

You can also incorporate regular yoga practice into your daily routine as a holistic approach to gaining flexibility in your back.

One of my favorite things about yoga is that it moves energy throughout the entire body, with special attention to the spine. In addition, yoga helps to lengthen muscles and opens up the space between the ribs and vertebrae, which minimizes tension and reduces headaches and backaches.[3]

Try these yoga poses that are not only good for flexibility but for overall relaxation. Hold each pose for 10 to 15 breaths:[4]

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    Knees Stretches

    The use of our legs to walk, run, swim or do any the movement that involves the legs also involves the knees. Flexibility in and around the knee joints is essential for mobility, and because everything is connected, flexibility in the knees will also create flexibility in other areas, such as the ankles, which will I will address next.

    So, if the exercises you perform on machines, such as the leg extension or leg curl, which move in the sagittal plane – that is, forward and backward or up and down – are among your go-to’s when training your lower body, you must have flexible knees.

    Here are 3 knee strengthening examples by Strength Side:

    Ankles Exercises

    Ankles run into all kinds of problems, like walking, wearing high heels or uncomfortable shoes, flat feet, trauma, improper footing when performing exercises, arthritis, and even swimming. All of these can cause tendonitis – The inflammation surrounding tendons in the lower leg muscles.

    Despite what it may look like, the foot does not remain in the same position during up-and-down movements which is why it is important to maintain flexibility in the muscles surrounding the ankle joint.

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    Flexibility allows for various positions (International Sports Sciences Association). In addition to the following exercises, R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is also effective for relieving ankle pain. Here are some examples of how to increase ankle and foot mobility:

    Planes of Motion

    Balancing your body’s planes of motion is necessary, not only for weight training and other exercise, but for gaining flexibility as well.

    Our body is a powerhouse because it is not limited to a single plan of motion movement, and instead has the ability to move in multiple directions – Sagittal, frontal, and transverse.

    For example, when doing flexibility exercises for your back, you should also work our abdominal muscles. Similarly, when weight-training your quadriceps, you should balance them by also training your hamstrings. This creates balance, coordination, and functionality:[5]

      Bonus Tip

      Keep in mind that stretching can go hand-in-hand with the use of sports medicine equipment, such as a foam roller to pre-condition tight muscles and break up lactic acid, compression apparel to maintain warmth, and even a lacrosse ball to target trigger points.[6]

      Now that you are familiar with stretches where common injuries occur, you should experience relief in multiple areas of your body and in your daily life. Tension, stress, and tight muscles can now be curtailed by effective stretching before and after your activities, and your muscles will be more relaxed and efficient, thereby increasing your performance.

      More Resources About Stretching Exercises

      Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Muscle Mechanics, International Sports Sciences Association, “Fitness: The Complete Guide,” page 166
      [2] Flexibility Training, International Sports Sciences Association, “Fitness: The Complete Guide,” page 343
      [3] Top Fuel Crossfit: Yoga Poses to Relieve Headaches: Lengthening the Spine
      [4] Rukmani Iyengar: 5 Yoga Asanas to Reduce Back Pain
      [5] Kai Simon: How To Improve Your Workout: Planes Of Motion
      [6] Flexibility Training, International Sports Sciences Association, “Fitness: The Complete Guide,” page 343.

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      Terri West

      Certified Fitness Trainer & Nutrition Specialist

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      Last Updated on November 9, 2020

      10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

      10 Real Reasons Why Breaking Bad Habits Is So Difficult

      Bad habits expose us to suffering that is entirely avoidable. Unfortunately, breaking bad habits is difficult because they are 100% dependent on our mental and emotional state.

      Anything we do that can prove harmful to us is a bad habit – drinking, drugs, smoking, procrastination, poor communication are all examples of bad habits. These habits have negative effects on our physical, mental, and emotional health.

      Humans are hardwired to respond to stimuli and to expect a consequence of any action. This is how habits are acquired: the brain expects to be rewarded a certain way under certain circumstances. How you initially responded to certain stimuli is how your brain will always remind you to behave when the same stimuli are experienced.

      If you visited the bar close to your office with colleagues every Friday, your brain will learn to send you a signal to stop there even when you are alone and eventually not just on Fridays. It will expect the reward of a drink after work every day, which can potentially lead to a drinking problem.

      Kicking negative behavior patterns and steering clear of them requires a lot of willpower, and there are many reasons why breaking bad habits is so difficult.

      1. Lack of Awareness or Acceptance

      Breaking a bad habit is not possible if the person who has it is not aware that it is a bad one.

      Many people will not realize that their communication skills are poor or that their procrastination is affecting them negatively, or even that the drink they had as a nightcap has now increased to three.

      Awareness brings acceptance. Unless a person realizes on their own that a habit is bad, or someone manages to convince them of the same, there is very little chance of the habit being kicked.

      2. No Motivation

      Going through a divorce, not being able to cope with academic pressure, and falling into debt are instances that can bring a profound sense of failure with them. A person going through these times can fall into a cycle of negative thinking where the world is against them and nothing they can do will ever help, so they stop trying altogether.

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      This give-up attitude is a bad habit that just keeps coming around. Being in debt could make you feel like you are failing at maintaining your home, family, and life in general.

      If you are looking to get out of a rut and feel motivated, take a look at this article: Why Is Internal Motivation So Powerful (And How to Find It)

      3. Underlying Psychological Conditions

      Psychological conditions such as depression and ADD can make it difficult to start breaking bad habits.

      A depressed person may find it difficult to summon the energy to cook a healthy meal, resulting in food being ordered in or consumption of packaged foods. This could lead to a habit that adversely affects health and is difficult to overcome.

      A person with ADD may start to clean their house but get distracted soon after, leaving the task incomplete, eventually leading to a state where it is acceptable to live in a house that is untidy and dirty.

      The fear of missing out (FOMO) is very real to some people. Obsessively checking their social media and news sources, they may believe that not knowing of something as soon as it is published can be catastrophic to their social standing.

      4. Bad Habits Make Us Feel Good

      One of the reasons it is difficult to break habits is that a lot of them make us feel good.[1]

      We’ve all been there – the craving for a tub of ice cream after a breakup or a casual drag on a joint, never to be repeated until we miss how good it made us feel. We succumb to the craving for the pleasure felt while indulging in it, cementing it as a habit even while we are aware it isn’t good for us.

      Overeating is a very common bad habit. Just another pack of chips, a couple of candies, a large soda… none of these are necessary for survival. We want them because they give us comfort. They’re familiar, they taste good, and we don’t even notice when we progress from just one extra slice of pizza to four.

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      You can read this article to learn more: We Do What We Know Is Bad for Us, Why?

      5. Upward Comparisons

      Comparisons are a bad habit that many of us have been exposed to since we were children. Parents might have compared us to siblings, teachers may have compared us to classmates, and bosses could compare us to past and present employees.

      The people who have developed the bad habit of comparing themselves to others have been given incorrect yardsticks for measurement from the start.

      These people will always find it difficult to break out of this bad habit because there will always be someone who has it better than they do: a better house, better car, better job, higher income and so on.

      Research shows that in the age of social media, social comparisons are much easier and can ultimately harm self-esteem if scrolling becomes a bad habit[2].

      6. No Alternative

      This is a real and valid reason why breaking bad habits is difficult. These habits could fulfill a need that may not be met any other way.

      Someone who has physical or psychological limitations, such as a disability or social anxiety, may find it hard to quit obsessive content consumption for better habits.

      Alternately, a perfectly healthy person may be unable to quit smoking because alternates are just not working out.

      Similarly, a person who bites their nails when anxious may be unable to relieve stress in any other socially accepted manner.

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      7. Stress

      As mentioned above, anything that stresses us out can lead to adopting and cementing an unhealthy habit.

      When a person is stressed about something, it is easy for bad habits to form because the mental resources required to fight them are not available[3].

      We often see a person who had previously managed to kick a bad habit fall back into the old ways because they felt their stress couldn’t be managed any other way.

      If you need some help reducing stress, check out the following video for some healthy ways to get started:

      8. Sense of Failure

      People looking to kick bad habits may feel a strong sense of failure because it’s just that difficult.

      Dropping a bad habit usually means changes in lifestyle that people may be unwilling to make, or these changes might not be easy to make in spite of the will to make them.

      Overeaters need to empty their house of unhealthy food, resist the urge to order in, and not pick up their standard grocery items from the store. Those who drink too much need to avoid the bars or even people who drink often.

      If such people slip even once with a glass of wine, or a smoke, or a bag of chips, they tend to be excessively harsh on themselves and feel like failures.

      9. The Need to Be All-New

      People who are looking to break bad habits feel they need to re-create themselves in order to break themselves of their bad habits, while the truth is the complete opposite.

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      These people actually need to go back to who they were before they developed the bad habit and try to create good habits from there.

      10. Force of Habit

      Humans are creatures of habit, and having familiar, comforting outcomes for daily triggers helps us maintain a sense of balance in our lives.

      Consider people who are used to lighting up a cigarette every time they talk on the phone or eating junk food when watching TV. They will always associate a phone call with a puff on the cigarette and screen time with eating.

      These habits, though bad, are a source of comfort to them, as is meeting with those people they indulge in these bad habits with.

      Final Thoughts

      These are the main reasons why breaking bad habits is difficult, but the good news is that the task is not impossible. Breaking habits takes time, and you’ll need to put long-term goals in place to replace a bad habit with a good one.

      There are many compassionate, positive and self-loving techniques to kick bad habits. The internet is rich in information regarding bad habits, their effects and how to overcome them, while professional help is always available for those who feel they need it.

      More on Breaking Bad Habits

      Featured photo credit: NORTHFOLK via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] After Skool: Why Do Bad Habits Feel SO GOOD?
      [2] Psychology of Popular Media Culture: Social comparison, social media, and self-esteem.
      [3] Stanford Medicine: Examining how stress affects good and bad habits

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