The best part of working out is how it makes you feel both mentally and physically, right? Fun fact for you: boosted feel-good endorphins, less stress, and increased strength and mobility are all common benefits of a stretching workout, too.
You read that right - no, you don't need to be killing yourself in HIIT classes to reap the benefits of working out. Far from it - lower-impact sessions that prioritise things like mobility and flexibility can actually be better for you in the long run.
While research still can't find a conclusive answer to whether stretching does indeed reduce delayed onset muscle soreness after a workout or improve performance, it has proven that stretching can boost both flexibility and range of motion in your joints, which in turn aid injury prevention (aka lower your risk of injury).
"Stretching should be the main event rather than an accessory to exercise," shares personal trainer Jessica Stevens. "Studies have shown that stretching can reduce the risk of muscle strains and other injuries by up to 45-72% - dedicating more time to stretching now can save you from pain in the future."
Stretching workout: so, are they really worth your time?
Well, according to Stevens, yes, they are.
You may already have a roster of the best warm-up exercises and cool-down exercises at your disposal, but a stretching workout is ideal for the days where you're super stiff and need to release built-up tension, or where you aren't working out at all but want to show your body some love (rest days are important).
What are the benefits of a stretching workout?
"There are numerous health benefits of a simple, daily, full-body stretch including improved posture and increased blood flow to the muscles," she shares.
The trainer continues that adding stretching into your weekly workout routine can result in the following:
- Better posture
- Increased blood flow
- Stress relief
- Enhanced mobility
- Improved flexibility
Add all of these benefits up and they'll boost your wellbeing day to day - not to mention potentially reduce your risk of injury, as above.
Ready to give your own stretching workout a go? Here, the PT has shared her go-to eight moves which combined equal her go-to stretching workout.
Her advice? "Breathe, try not to bounce too much, and remember that you're aiming for tension, not pain," she advises.
1. 3 point neck stretch
This stretch releases tension stored in the neck or any aches and pains, shares the expert.
How to: Start by slowly moving your chin towards your chest, then, slowly turn your head from left to right.
How long: Hold for 15 seconds, and repeat until you feel release. Remember to not stretch to the point of pain - only do what is comfortable.
2. Forward bend for a back stretch
The PT calls this move "the ultimate full-body stretch" - ideal for office workers who spend a lot of time sitting at a computer all day. This promises to stretch the legs and hamstrings and is a chest and shoulder opening exercise, too.
How to: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointing forward. Reach your hands behind you to meet behind your glutes and interlace your fingers, if possible.
Keeping a flat back, bend at the waist, shift your hips backwards and your weight in your heels until you feel a stretch down the back of your legs. As you bend forward, let gravity pull your arms above your head, keeping your arms straight.
Only go as far as your shoulder flexibility will allow.
How long: Hold this position for 30 seconds and repeat.
3. Seated Back Twist
"Spinal twists are a great release exercise. They can help improve back pain and increase mobility," Stevens explains. The move promises to release tension in the back muscles, glutes, and lower back.
How to: Start seated with your legs crossed and your left leg placed on top.
Cross your left leg further over the right, and place the foot on the ground by your right knee. Keeping your left knee pointing upwards, gently twist your shoulders towards the left, pushing against your left leg for leverage.
How long: Hold the position for 30 seconds, aiming to repeat on both sides.
4. Tricep arm stretch
The triceps often get left behind when it comes to stretching, but they need some love, too.
How to: Raise the left arm while keeping the elbow close to the head then, bending at the elbow, allow the left hand to drop behind the neck. Use the right hand to hold your left arm behind the elbow and gently press down, moving the left hand further down the back. (Only push down if comfortable and until the point of comfort and release.)
How long: Hold for 10 seconds - repeat on the other side twice.
5. Cross-body tricep stretch
1. Start in a standing position
2. Move the left arm across the front of the body, and extend it past the right shoulder
3. Bend right arm to hold the left forearm, to ensure the left arm is brought towards the chest. Make sure to hold the arm and not the elbow joint
4. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat with the right arm
5. Repeat three times
6. Kneeling hip flexor stretch
This stretch targets the hamstrings, hip flexors, lower back and calves, according to Stevens. "This stretch is great for the lower body, especially the hamstrings and hip flexors. Tight hamstrings are often the culprits of low back pain," she continues.
How to: Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Step the left leg back while simultaneously placing both of your hands on the ground on either side of your right foot.
Lower your hips down to just above the ground, or until you feel the stretch in the front of your left hip and leg. Pause here, then slowly straighten your front leg all while keeping your hands placed on the floor.
How long: Hold for 30 seconds per leg.
7. Standing hamstring stretch
Another great one for runners,
How to: Start in a standing position. While keeping the right foot flat on the ground, bend the right knee slightly and extend the left leg forward, flexing the left foot. Keeping the heel on the ground and the toes facing upward, lean forward slightly, placing your right hand on your thigh for stability. Raise your toes on your left foot.
How long: Hold for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg. Change and repeat three times.
8. Child's pose stretch
Finally, this is one of Steven's favourite yoga poses and a great stretch to add to any workout. "It's a super relaxing way to end a stretching routine or any session," she expands.
How to? Start in a kneeling position with feet lying flat on the ground and toes pointing back. Sit back against the heels, and lower chest whilst sliding the arms forward.
How long: Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, repeat 3 times and relax.
Is 20 minutes of stretching enough?
While it'll depend on what other exercise you do, plus how stiff your legs are and what pre-existing conditions you have, yes, 20 minutes of stretching a day should be plenty to reap the benefits on offer, reckon the experts.
Need more inspiration? World-renowned PT Joe Wicks raves about the benefits of stretching and mobility on his own Instagram page, saying it's significantly improved his overall wellbeing. You heard it here first...
How do I make sure I'm stretching effectively?
Stevens advises warming up even before you stretch - this will prepare your muscles for stretching and reduce the risk of injury.
Make sure to hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds to allow your muscles to relax and lengthen, and similarly, make sure to stretch gently - "avoid bouncing or forcing the stretch," the PT recommends.
Next, make sure to remember that stretching should not be painful - "if it hurts, ease up or stop."
Lastly, do consult a professional if you have any queries. "Remember, stretching is not always appropriate for everyone and in some cases, it can be contraindicated. Always check with a medical professional before starting a stretching routine."
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Dionne Brighton is a writer at Marie Claire UK, specialising in all things shopping, beauty and fashion. Born and raised in North London, she studied Literature at the University of East Anglia before taking the leap into journalism. These days, you can find her testing out the latest TikTok beauty trends or finding out what the next full Moon means.
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