Your muscles can be come shortened, tight, and injury prone if you do not take proper care of them. Using muscle stretches before and after your exercise sessions is one of the most important ways of preventing muscle injuries. Muscle stretches will give you a secondary benefit of improving your range of motion.
When you start planning your stretching routines do not neglect any part of your body. You want stretches to work on all the muscles from your neck all the way to your feet. Ignoring any muscle group can lead to possible injuries when some parts of your body have a great range of motion and their supporting counterparts have limited movement.
Muscle stretches are actually very easy. You can choose to follow a chart of planned stretches, or you can just choose to gently stretch each muscle group as you feel it. Some of the most innovative stretches come about just because one person decided to try a new way of stretching a muscle to get a little better angle on the muscle. If you can feel the pull, it is working.
For most people the best way to get started is with a good chart of stretches. These are available in many exercise books, and you can even purchase just the charts through many book outlets.
Here are a few examples of effective muscle stretches to get you started:
Heel Drop – Calf Stretch – This is one of the easiest stretches. Stand on a step, the edge of a curb, or other elevated stepping spot. Allow your heel to drop down, stretching the calf deeply. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds to one minute, and then rotate to the other leg.
Neck Stretches – Keep your head facing straight forward, but start tipping your head to one side. Go until you feel the tension in your neck and then allow the weight of your head to gently stretch the muscles on that side for about 30 seconds. Tip your head to the opposite side. After completing both sides, tip your head forward, and then backwards repeating the same sequence to stretch the front and rear neck muscles.
Hamstring Stretch – Place one heel up on a step, or possibly two steps up. Lean forward slightly at the waist towards the straightened raised foot. You should feel tension and pulling in your hamstring. Hold the position for 30 seconds, do not bounce. After 30 seconds rotate to the other legs.
These three examples should help your start visualizing how you can stretch all the muscles in your body. You are simply looking for ways to isolate a muscle, and move until you feel tension and stretching, then stop and hold. Over time you will gain additional depth in your stretches, increasing your range of motion.
Muscle stretches help prepare you muscles for the sudden shocks, turns, and demands put on them through sports and daily life. A well prepared muscle avoids injury, or minimizes the injury allowing for fast recovery. Never neglect stretching in your exercise routines.