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9 Easy Stretching Exercises That Will Increase Flexibility

23rd November 2020

23rd November 2020

By Shivraj Bassi

Have you ever heard the saying that you should bend, not break? It’s not only a good adage to apply to life in general, but an excellent mentality for the importance of stretching in your fitness regime. It might not give you the rush of crossing a half marathon finish line or bench pressing your bodyweight, but it’s incredibly important for maintaining and improving mobility, reducing pain and tightness and ensuring your workouts are safe and efficient. 

While you might think that skipping your warm up stretch won’t do any harm and means you’ll get to the most exciting part of your workout faster, neglecting flexibility can have serious effects in the long term. Tight muscles can strain joints, and as we age muscles become shorter and less elastic. Not stretching and lengthening your muscles could impact your ability to do the sports you love. 

With that in mind, we’ve curated a selection of exercises for flexibility that will help to increase your range of movement in the easiest possible way. For extra help, Innermost’s The Recover Capsules are a great addition to your stretching routine to support muscle recovery and reduce inflammation, so you’ll soon be on your way to being supple and strong. 

Standing hamstring stretch

There’s a reason this move is so popular. It stretches your legs, hamstrings, back and neck, and all you have to do is bend forward.  

  • Stand relaxed with your arms by your sides and your feet hip width apart 
  • Bend forward from the hips, lowering your head towards the floor while keeping your shoulders relaxed
  • If you can touch the floor or your toes, do so. Otherwise, hold the backs of your legs and hold for 30 seconds to two minutes before slowly rolling upright once more

Figure four stretch

This stretch is done lying down, so no excuses for not doing it. It stretches your hips, glutes and lower back in a gentle way that’s great if you have knee or back pain

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor
  • Cross your right foot over your left thigh and lift your left leg off the floor
  • Hold onto the back of your left thigh and gently pull both legs into your chest until you feel a stretch, then hold
  • Hold for 30 seconds to two minutes then release and repeat on the other side

Frog stretch

If you’re guilty of crossing your legs while sitting on a chair (who isn’t?), this leg stretch can help to relieve tight hips and lower back pain. It stretches the hips and inner thighs.

  • Start out on all fours and position your knees so they’re wider than shoulder width
  • Turn out your toes and position the inner edges of your feet flat against the floor
  • Shifting your hips back, move towards your heels and if possible, move from your hands to your forearms for a deeper stretch
  • Release after holding from 45 seconds to two minutes

Butterfly stretch

This stretch for your legs is great at opening up your hips and can help improve posture. It increases flexibility in the hips, thighs, glutes and back. 

  • Sit with the soles of your feet pressed together, knees bent out to the side and back straight
  • While holding onto your feet, slowly lower your top half towards your feet while pressing your knees toward the floor
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds to two minutes before slowly rising back up

Sphinx pose

If you work at a desk and spend your days hunched over a screen, sphinx pose can help to relieve tension in your lower back. This position stretches your chest, shoulders and back. 

  • Lie on your front with your legs pointing straight out behind you
  • Place your elbows under your shoulders and your forearms on the floor, then lift your chest up and gently arch your back
  • Press the lower half of your body into the floor, engage your abs and relax your shoulders while holding the position
  • Hold the stretch for 45 seconds to two minutes, stopping if you feel any discomfort

Lunge with spinal twist

This stretch works multiple areas of your body and is helpful for posture-related aches and pains. It works your hip flexors, back and quads. 

  • Standing with your feet together, then take a large step forwards with your right foot
  • Bend your right knee and drop forward into a lunge, keeping your left leg directly behind you with your toes on the ground
  • Placing your left hand on the floor, twist your upper body to the right and raise your right arm towards the sky
  • Hold for 45 seconds to two minutes, then repeat on the other side

Triceps stretch

Stretching your arms is important to increase upper body strength. This exercise increases flexibility in your triceps, shoulders, back and neck.

  • Extend your arms straight over your head
  • Bending your right elbow, reach your right hand down to touch the upper middle of your back
  • Grasp just below your right elbow with your left hand and pull your right elbow gently towards your head
  • Hold for 30 seconds to two minutes, then repeat on the opposite side

Seated shoulder squeeze

If you experience shoulder or back pain, this stretch shouldn’t be skipped. It can help to relieve back tension and stretches out your arms, back and shoulders. 

  • With your arms extended straight out behind you, clasp your hands together
  • Gently pull your shoulder blades together and extend your arms out
  • Squeeze in this position for three to five seconds before releasing. Do this five to 10 times

Knee to chest stretch

This satisfying exercise increases flexibility and releases pain and tension in your lower back and hips, as well as stretching your hamstrings. 

  • Lie on your back with both legs extended flat on the floor
  • Pull your right knee close into your chest, keeping the left leg straight and your lower back pressed down into the floor
  • Hold this position for 30 seconds to two minutes, then repeat on the other side

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Here's Why You Should Be Foam Rolling Everyday
Unlike Chamillionaire, when we see you rollin’, we’re definitely not hatin’. Foam rolling is becoming more and more widely practiced. But, before incorporating foam rolling into fitness routines, beware of the pitfalls and mistakes that are so commonly made to get the most from foam rolling.  Put simply, foam rolling breaks down fibrous tissue which in turn, boosts circulation and helps relieve tension and pain. This is a great recovery technique, allowing you to train again the next day. What is a foam roller? Firstly, a foam roller is a cylinder of foam (you could say the clue is in the name) that avid gym-goers and exercise lovers utilise to alleviate muscle soreness. Other uses include pain management, flexibility training and knot-busting. The rollers are lightweight, portable and pretty inexpensive if you shop around. They are a great investment to make if you are frequently struggling to get up stairs after a leg day workout. Why do people foam roll? Foam rolling is one of the most gratifying muscle releases there is. We’ve all felt the satisfaction of sore arms and legs feeling eased and relaxed during a rolling session after a hard workout. It hurts so good, sometimes you don’t want to stop. The explanations behind why foam rolling works feels good are hotly contested. While the benefits of it have been claimed to include everything from warming up your muscles to releasing tension to helping you to recover faster after a workout, did you ever pause in your rolling routine to ask how it actually benefits you? Foam roller benefits The benefits of utilising a foam roller are backed up with cold evidence. While there is conclusive scientific research on the subject, it’s limited. A study from  The Sports Medicine Journal discovered that after a session of foam rolling, there was significant alleviation of the impact of exercise.  Another small study published in the Journal of Athletic Training suggested that engaging in foam rolling after you’ve worked out can help reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness, which would then in turn boost performance in later workouts. If you still weren't convinced, there’s also evidence from a review in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy that foam rolling can help to promote short-term increases in the range of motion achieved by muscles and can boost flexibility. This translates to you feeling less tight and being able to work out better and more efficiently. Why is foam rolling so effective? One possible explanation for the benefits of foam rolling is the literal warming up of your muscles. The friction from it could help to increase the temperature of your muscles and fascia, which helps to loosen joints and tissues and increase the range of motion. In the same way, foam rolling post-workout increases blood flow to the areas you work on, which can help to speed up recovery time and minimise delayed-onset muscle soreness.  How should I use my foam roller? Less pain, more gain When it comes to utilising foam rollers and rolling techniques, it’s important that when we roll pre-workout, the aim is not to try and sort out any strains or troublesome muscle knots. If we try and roll out painful spots in our muscles before we exercise, then the pain will cause the brain to respond with a protective reflex that reduces muscle performance. Instead, save the self-inflicted, therapeutic muscle torture for post-workout rolling. But remember, even after the workout, do not roll directly on a painful area because it can increase inflammation and inhibits healing. Instead, roll a few inches away from the painful spot first and then, with large, sweeping motions, cover the entire area.  This will feel like a huge wave of relief over the effective area. Speed matters The speed at which you should be using your foam roller differs depending on the time of the roll. For example, when warming up our muscles pre-workout, you should use fast and dynamic rolling techniques in order to wake up our neuromuscular systems. Then after the workout, you should use slower movements in order to flush out toxins and allow our muscles to adapt and relax.   Aim for texture When you’re in the market for your foam roller, go for a roller that can stimulate nerve endings effectively. We recommend that you pick one that is firm and has a textured surface, as the textured surface will reach deeper into the muscle’s myofascial layers than a soft, smooth roller would. In comparison, a smooth, soft roller is the wrong tool for the job. This is because these are not effective in the stimulation of the nerve endings in the muscles. This is detrimental as this stimulation is needed to send proprioceptive messages to our brains. Therefore, smooth rollers are not as good as textured rollers for preparing our brains to control our body’s movements in our workouts.  Go against the grain Variety is the spice of life – so keep the roll routine varied! Try out different speeds and techniques like pivoting which drives the roller deeper and involves more layers of muscle and fascia. Pivoting is done by rocking the edge or tip of the roller back and forth on the target spot, or twisting, like turning a tap on and off, on that spot. Also, most people only roll in the direction of the muscle fibres, but what is stopping us from going against the grain? Try out cross-fibre friction (i.e. rolling across your muscles) to add another aspect to the proprioceptive message sent to the brain. Summary Pre-workout, post-workout and recovery are hugely important – it’s not just your workout that you should be focussing on. Investing your time and energy into the right techniques and the right products is instrumental in the success of your workouts and in the reaching of your fitness goals.  If you’re struggling with your recovery – why not integrate The Recovery Capsules into your routine? References Macgregor, L. J., Fairweather, M. M., Bennett, R. M., & Hunter, A. M. (2018). The effect of foam rolling for three consecutive days on muscular efficiency and range of motion. Sports medicine-open, 4(1), 1-9. Click here. Pearcey, G. E., Bradbury-Squires, D. J., Kawamoto, J. E., Drinkwater, E. J., Behm, D. G., & Button, D. C. (2015). Foam rolling for delayed-onset muscle soreness and recovery of dynamic performance measures. Journal of athletic training, 50(1), 5-13. Click here. Read more