Jessica Matthews, DBH (doctor of behavioral health), a certified yoga teacher, professor of kinesiology at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and 2017 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year. She is author of Stretching to Stay Young: Simple Workouts to Keep You Flexible, Energized, and Pain-Free.
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Even if stretching is part of your regular workout routine, there are probably body parts that need stretching and aren’t getting it. But if you want to keep your whole body flexible, energized and pain-free, you need to keep those ignored areas limber, too.
Regular stretching enhances flexibility and range of motion in joints, which helps the body move with greater ease when doing other kinds of exercise as well as during daily activities, while also helping to prevent injuries such as muscle strains and falls. Stretching also can help to reduce pain and stiffness. And when paired with mindful breathing, stretching can help mitigate stress and reduce mental tension.
However, most people tend to leave some muscles out of stretching routines because they’re not aware of them, such as the quadratus lumborum and the tibialis anterior…and other muscles they may exercise to strengthen but not know they also need to be stretched, such as the biceps and obliques.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that flexibility exercises be performed at least two to three days per week, with daily stretching being most effective. The following passive static stretches should be held to the point of mild tension or slight discomfort to enhance joint range of motion, but never to the point of pain. Each stretch should be held for 15 to 30 seconds per repetition. Some commonly ignored muscles and the stretches that keep them limber…
• Biceps stretch. The biceps brachii is located at the front of the upper arm and is the primary muscle involved in flexing the elbow and moving the forearm. Biceps exercises tend to focus on concentrically engaging (shortening) the muscles in order to build them up. Even when followed by lengthening motion, the lengthening is created by tension and doesn’t really stretch the muscles. Stretching the biceps helps maintain their ideal length and range of motion and minimizes risk for injury. Bonus: Biceps stretches may support improved posture, countering a rounded shoulder position by also stretching the shoulders and pectoral muscles.
How to do it: Stand facing a wall, as close as you can get to it. Extend your left arm along the wall straight out to shoulder height and place your palm flat against the wall, thumb pointing up. Keep your right arm relaxed at your side. Keeping your left palm on the wall, rotate your body clockwise (to the right) by pivoting on your feet to assume a position with shoulders and hips perpendicular to the wall and your right foot slightly ahead of your left foot. Complete the stretch by rotating your hips and shoulders away from the wall while your feet stay firmly in position. Hold the stretch for three to five breaths (approximately 30 seconds). Switch sides and repeat. Complete two repetitions per side.
• Quadratus lumborum and obliques stretch (“standing crescent moon”). The quadratus lumborum (QL) is a deep abdominal muscle that connects your lower spine to your pelvis. The QL gets taxed by extended periods of sitting, poor posture and also strain from repetitive day-to-day movements, leading to tightness and pain in the lower back. The obliques—internal and external—are muscles found on the sides of the rectus abdominis (the “six-pack” muscles) and run from hips to rib cage. They help stabilize the spine and aid in flexion (the ability of the spine to bend), lateral flexion (bend to the side) and rotation (twist). Tight obliques can pull the spine out of alignment and lead to poor posture. Research also shows that when lateral flexion is restricted, it increases risk for low-back pain. Lateral flexion of the spine is often neglected in daily exercise routines.
How to do it:Stand with feet hip-width apart, arms at your sides. Keeping your left arm relaxed at your side, inhale and sweep your right arm out to the side and up, fingers pointing toward the ceiling and your palm facing to the left. Next, exhale while reaching your right arm over your head toward your left side, keeping your fingertips pointed out, as you lean your torso to the left to stretch the right side of your body. Hold the stretch for three to five breaths (approximately 30 seconds). Switch sides and repeat. Complete two repetitions per side.
• Tibialis anterior stretch. Your tibialis anterior is located on your outer shin and is involved in moving the foot and ankle, specifically pointing your foot up. You’re probably familiar with tight tibialis anterior muscles—commonly called “shin splints.” Lengthening the muscle helps avoid this potential pain. Exercises that stretch the backs of the legs, such as runners do to warm up, put the foot and ankle in a position that tightens the tibialis anterior. To stretch this muscle, you need to do the opposite—point your toes forward, a move that is not part of many exercises.
How to do it: Stand barefoot next to a wall or chair on your left side with your feet together. Bracing your left hand on the wall or holding a chair for support, bend your right knee and extend your right leg back, pointing the toes of your right foot so that you can place the tops of your tucked-under toes on the floor behind you. Keeping the tops of your toes on the floor, shift your weight slightly forward to create a stretch in the front lower part of your leg (shin). Hold this stretch for three to five breaths (approximately 30 seconds). Switch sides and repeat with your left leg. Complete two repetitions per side.