Did you know that not all stretches were created equal? Of course, we all know that stretching is a great way to help limber up our muscles and increase our flexibility, but performing the wrongstretches at the wrong times can actually be detrimental to your health.
Here are three stretches every activity lover should have in their repertoire.
Good Stretches for Bad Knees
While exercising is essential for achy knees (it helps strength the muscles around the knee joint), it’s also important to perform the proper stretches to go with your exercise, since it can be easy to hurt your knees even further if stretches aren’t performed correctly. For starters, remember to never bend your legs so much that your knees extend past your toes, as this puts a lot of pressure on your kneecaps — something you obviously want to avoid. Instead, try:
- Calf Raises: Stand with feet hip-width apart and slowly lift heels off the floor, rising up onto your tiptoes. Repeat this exercise 10 to 12 times.
- Straight Leg Raises: An exercise that helps strengthen your quadriceps, or the muscles in front of the thigh, will put little to no strain on your knee, while helping to limber you up at the same time. Lie on your back, bending one knee with your foot flat on the floor and keeping the other leg straight. Slowly raise the straight leg to the height of the opposite knee. Repeat this process 10-15 times, three times in a row.
- Hamstring Stretch: To help strengthen your hamstring — aka the muscles on the back of the thigh that attach to your knee — lie on the floor with both of your legs bent. Slowly lift one bent leg and bring your knee toward your chest. Grasp both hands behind your thigh and straighten your leg. Pull the straight leg back toward your head until you feel it stretching, and hold it there for 30 to 60 seconds.
Good Stretches for Runners
Hitting the road (or trails or treadmill or whatever your preferred track) with cold, unstretched muscles, or neglecting to loosen up your muscles after a run, is the best way to score an injury. Before and after heading out on that run, try these stretches to keep your muscles in tiptop shape:
- Walking Lunges: Lunges open up both your quads and hip flexors — muscles that are very important to a run — as well as help stimulate forward motion. To start, stand with your feet together and take one long step forward with one foot. Bend your front knee at a 90-degree angle, and bend the back knee until it’s practically touching the ground. Hold that position for a few seconds, while straightening the back leg to feel the stretch through the front of your back thigh. Rise up and repeat with the other side.
- Quadriceps Stretch: Stretch those quads by standing upright and pulling one leg behind you, bent at the knee, with the corresponding hand.
- Calf Stretches: The calf stretch will increase flexibility in both your calf muscles and your Achilles tendon. To do them, sit with both legs flat out in front of you, straight and relaxed. If you can, place your hands around the ball of your foot. (If you can’t stretch quite that far, use a rope or towel for the stretch.) Keep your ankle loose while pulling your toes toward your shin. This exercise is best performed after a run.
Good Stretches for Back Pain
When it comes to back pain, it’s very important to concentrate on appropriate amounts of exercise and stretching, since overexertion can only cause the problem to get worse. Discuss with your doctor ahead of time any new physical routine you’d like to try before doing so. Having said that, the following exercises have been said to help reduce back pain, if done correctly:
- Hip Stretches: Both the hips and your buttocks (where the gluteus muscles are located) help support the lower back, so stretching these specific areas plays a big role in helping to alleviate back pain. For an easy hip stretch, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and take a half-step back with your right foot while bending your left knee and shifting your weight to your back hip. Keeping the right leg straight, bend forward and reach down the right leg until you can feel the stretch in your outer hip.
- Downward-Facing Dog Yoga Pose: Many yoga poses help us stretch targeted areas of our body, and the downward-facing dog pose does just that for your back. To accomplish this pose, start on your hands and knees with hands slightly in front of your shoulders. While pressing back, raise your knees from the floor and lift your tailbone toward the ceiling.
- Standing Hamstring Stretch: Your hamstring runs down the back of both of your thighs, and tightness here can limit motion in your pelvis, which in turn increases stress to your lower back. Help stop this from happening with a simple standing hamstring stretch. While standing straight, bend forward at your waist with your arms dangling down. Try touching your toes, and stop when you feel a stretch in your hamstring.
As with any new routine, if you feel any prolonged pain, stop the exercise and consult your physician right away.