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Get active and fit

Easy stretches to boost physical and mental health

Stretching is an essential part of any successful workout regime and can go a long way to improving athletic performance, reducing the risk of injury and enhancing mental calm.

Here is a short primer on the whys and hows of stretching – plus a basic 10 to 15 minute routine.

Benefits of stretching

Stretching has been linked to several physiological and psychological benefits:

  • Increased flexibility and range of motion
  • Decreased risk of activity-based injury
  • Stress relief
  • Improved circulation
  • Decreased muscle strain
  • Weight loss

Stretching guidelines

Careless stretching can injure you just as easily as contact sports, so it's important to follow some basic guidelines:

  • Warm up first
    • Contrary to what some people say, stretching isn't a warm-up
    • If you try to stretch "cold" or stiff muscles, you risk injury
    • Do some light cardio for 5 to 10 minutes first
  • Don't bounce
    • Instead, hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and breathe
  • Don't go for the burn
    • Push to the point where you feel some tension, but not so far that you feel pain
  • Get sport specific
    • Are you a soccer player? Emphasize hamstring stretches
    • But don't neglect the major muscle groups:
      • calves, thighs, hips, lower back, neck, shoulders
  • Be consistent
    • Results take time, so shoot for three sessions a week

Sample stretching routine

What you'll need:

  • An exercise or yoga mat when doing floor work
  • An exercise strap – a tie or belt will work just as well

Lower-back              

  1. Lie on your back
  2. Hug knees to chest
  3. Keep your back flat and neck relaxed
  4. If you can't reach around your knees, use a strap

Outer-hip stretch

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on floor
  2. Place right ankle on left knee and pull left knee towards chest
  3. If you can't reach, use your strap
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on other side

Hamstring stretch

  1. Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on floor
  2. Extend right leg up in the air with foot flexed, leg straight but knee soft
  3. Loop a strap around your flexed right foot and gently deepen the stretch, pulling your foot toward your body
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on other side

Shoulder shrugs

  1. Arms by your side, inhale and lift your shoulder to your ears
  2. Hold for one long deep breath and then release on an exhalation
  3. Repeat four times

Neck stretch A (forward/back)

  1. Roll your head forward toward your chest
  2. Place the weight of your hands on your head for a gravity assist
  3. Slowly roll head back up to centre
  4. Pause for a breath and repeat, going backwards this time (no hands this time)
  5. Lift your shoulders for support when returning head back up to centre

Neck stretch B (side-to-side)

  1. Lower left ear toward left shoulder
  2. Place left hand on right ear for a gravity assist
  3. Hold for a few breaths and gently return to centre
  4. Repeat on right side

Upper back

  1. Clasp hands in front of you and turn palms inside out
  2. Press palms away from you, round your back and let head fall forward
  3. Hold for a several deep breaths and then return slowly to centre

Chest

  1. Clasp hands behind your back
  2. If you can't reach, use a strap
  3. Keep arms straight and lift them up and away from the body
  4. Hold for several deep breaths and then release

Calf stretch

  1. Standing, lean against a wall on forearms
  2. Right leg bent in front and left leg extended straight and back
  3. Keep right knee directly on top of right foot (not past)
  4. Press forward until you feel stretch in upper part of left calf
  5. Hold for 30 seconds
  6. Now bend left knee slightly, lifting left heel off floor to stretch lower part of calf
  7. Hold for 30 seconds
  8. Repeat on opposite side

Be sure to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.

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