I am not one who like to spend too much time stretching, but I do have a short routine which I aim to do two or three times a week. This, together with dynamic warm-ups and functional resistance training, has kept me injury free for many years.
But every so often, even though you may do everything right, a niggle appear. This niggle is usually a sign of over training (too much volume or training too often without rest days) or overloading (too heavy or too strenuous) or a combination of both.
Whatever the reason, if you have a little niggle or a persistent strain which interferes with your training or everyday life, a daily full body stretching routine may be just what you need.
The benefits of a full body stretching routine should not be underestimated. Stretching is not the solution to all your problems, but it might be the missing link in your training. If you are not doing any physical activity, it is even more important. Either way, it is vitally important to be flexible within acceptable levels.
Not only can a good range of motion prevent injuries, it can improve performance. You can lift heavier, run faster and recover quicker when your body has the ability to move it’s joints through their full range of motion.
For the sedentary among us, stretching is the very least you can do keep your body functional for longer. In fact, passive stretching is superior to active stretching in reducing pain, increasing muscle extensibility and correcting posture among people with lower back and neck pain.
Why do our muscles get tight?
Know this- your body’s utmost priority, is to protect the spine. The spine cannot lose functionality.
So when you feel tight in the hamstrings, have lower back or neck pain, it is the result of clever compensation mechanisms to protect your spine.
In other words, your body will happily pay the cost of a shoulder or a groin injury to protect your central movement mechanism: the spine.
Generally, every “muscle pain” you feel in your body is there to keep you moving and alive. To survive.
That is why, if you have chronic tight hamstrings, and you only stretch those tight muscles, you most likely won’t improve your flexibility at all. Shoulders are another good example. Stretching a tight deltoid on it’s own won’t have the same impact as doing the correct full body stretching routine.
Now this doesn’t mean I’m going to show you how to stretch your spine and all will be solved. I’m going to show you a muscle stretching routine which, I believe, let’s your spine know that it can relax all the tight muscles. It resets itself, and little by little, your body returns to have a full range of motion in all areas.
People with back pain often fear movement, which can make their back stiff and their pain even worse. Yet, a stable spine is also more flexible, so it can support a full range of natural movements. And healthier movements reduce pressure on the low back and lower the risk of pain and injury.
Spine stability is achieved with a balanced approach to your entire core musculature. This means you engage all the core muscles at once — from the abdominals to the whole back.
This is what you need when you require sudden strength and a broad range of motion, like lifting weights or simply carrying groceries and placing them on the counter or floor.
Spine stability means your entire trunk is working together in rhythm. If one thing is off, it can affect the entire structure.
How often and how long you should do this stretch routine, depends on your level of flexibility. I’ve found that most people can benefit from a dedicated two weeks daily stretch routine, before moving to twice a week. But first we need to determine your current flexibility level.
This simple flexibility test will tell you where you are and can be used to monitor your progress. It only test your hamstrings, but it is safe to say that if you have good flexibility there, the rest of your muscles will be flexible too.
Sit down facing a wall. Place your feet flat against the wall with your legs straight. Bend from the waist, attempting to touch your toes. If you can place your palms flat against the wall, you have excellent low back/hamstring flexibility, there is no need for you to increase your range of motion with flexibility training.
If that is the case you may want to maintain your flexibility by doing this program once or twice per week along with your resistance training and mobility exercises.
For the rest of you, who can’t place your palms against the wall from a seated position, it is a good idea to do this program every day for two weeks. If you still can’t touch it after two weeks, keep on doing this flexibility program as often as possible. It is definitely a good idea to add mobility exercises and some so-called “functional” workouts.
Full Body Flexibility routine:
Hold each stretch for 10-15 sec. Relax the muscle, then repeat. Do a total of 3 sets per stretch exercise.
Stretch Exercise 1- “Standing Quads”
From a standing position, with an arm supporting the body by placing a hand against a wall, raise one foot toward the hip and grasp the ankle. Pull the leg upward toward the buttocks until the point of slight discomfort.
Stretch Exercise 2- “Prone Quads”
In a prone (on stomach) position, flex the knee and grasp the ankle with both hands. Keep the knee on the floor, and do not arch the back.
Stretch Exercise 3- “Supine knees to chest”
In a supine (on back), grasp knee and slowly pull knee towards chest, then slowly flex head towards knee.
Stretch Exercise 4- “Seated trunk to legs”
From a sitting position with legs extending out, grasp ankle of lower leg and flex trunk to legs.
Stretch Exercise 5- “Flexed knee trunk to leg”
From a sitting position, with one knee flexed, and the other leg extended, flex the trunk towards the extended leg until you reach the point of slight discomfort. Switch legs and repeat.
Stretch Exercise 6- “Soles of feet together”
From a sitting position, with both legs flexed and the soles of the feet together, place hands on inside of both knees and slowly push downward until you reach the point of slight discomfort.
Hip Abductors and Trunk Lateral Flexors
Stretch Exercise 7- “Seated trunk rotation pull”
From a crossed-leg sitting position, rotate trunk to the right, by placing hands on right side of thigh and slowly pull until slight discomfort is reached. Repeat on the left side.
Stretch Exercise 8- “Standing flexed knee calf stretch”
Assume front-leaning position against a wall with one foot ahead of the other. Slowly flex hip, knee, and ankle to lower the body to the ground, keeping feet flat on floor. Lower body until slight discomfort is reached. Repeat with opposite leg ahead of the other.
Stretch Exercise 9- “Seated forehead to knees”
Sit with legs crossed and arms folded within crossed legs, tuck chin, and curl forward attempting to touch forehead to knees.
Stretch Exercise 10- “Seated towel, arms overhead”
While sitting, grasp a towel with both hands. The width the hands are apart is dependent on your range of motion within the shoulder region. Rotate arms overhead behind the trunk, until the point of slight discomfort is reached.
Below are a list of exercises that can be incorporated into your stretching program that are specific to the treatment and prevention of low back pain. For better overall results I strongly suggest that most people do this together with the stretches.
Exercises for Low Back Care:
Exercise 1- “Lying flatten back”
Lie on your back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms at your side. Flatten the small of your back against the floor. Hold this position. This action will require your hips to tilt upward. Do 3-6 ten to fifteen seconds holds
Exercise 2- “Double Knee to Chest”
Lie on back with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms at your side. Raise both knees, one at a time, to your chest, hold for 10 to 15 seconds. Lower your legs, one at a time to the floor and rest. Do 3-6 raises.
Exercise 3- “Arched-back Sit on heels”
On your hands and knees, tuck in your chin and arch your back. Slowly sit back on your heels, letting your shoulders drop toward to the floor. Hold for ten to fifteen seconds. This action would not create an isometric contraction because a static contraction is not required to hold the position. This activity is a stretch, not a contraction. Repeat x3
Exercise 4- “Cat and Camel Stretch”
On your hands and knees with your head parallel to the floor, arch your back, hold for 10 to 15 seconds and then, let your back slowly sag toward the floor while keeping your arms straight. Repeat x3
Exercise 5- “Flat back partial Curl-Up”
Lie on your back with your knees bent at a 45 degree angle, feet flat on the floor, and your arms crossed over your chest or lying at your side. Keeping your middle and lower back flat on the floor, raise your head and shoulders off the floor a few inches. Repeat 3-6 times
Exercise 6- “Single Leg Prone Extension”
Lie on your stomach with your arms folded under your chin. Slowly lift one leg a few inches without bending at the knee, while keeping your pelvis flat on the floor. Slowly lower the leg. It is not necessary to hold the leg. This would create an isometric contraction; since, muscle contraction is required to hold this position. Simply raise the leg a few inches then slowly lower the leg to the floor. Repeat lifting the other leg. Repeat 6 times each leg.
Exercise 7- “Back Hyperextension”
In standing position, slowly arch the back towards the posterior while keeping your hips immobile. Stop when you reach the point of slight discomfort. Repeat x3-10.