How To Stretch: A Beginner's Guide

01/06/2022 | 6 min. read

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Healthy Directions Staff Editor

Stretching should be an essential part of life for anyone with the ability to do so. It has the capacity to not only prevent injury but maximize the effects of workouts by stretching both beforehand and afterward. Stretching can also alleviate various skeletal and muscular pains, besides other solutions like surgery or medication.

It should be noted; however, that stretching improperly can have the opposite of the desired effect. You can end up injuring yourself in the process of trying something too new or complicated.

Besides that, your body is unique to you, and there isn’t always a way to tell what will be bad for you and what will be good. That’s where plenty of consultation from a physical therapist and doctor comes in.

This guide will look at some basic stretches that are known to reap results if you keep up with them. Each stretch is performed for a different reason and towards different target areas.

Don’t forget to talk to a physical therapist or a personal trainer if you are looking to try anything more complicated or learn which routine is best for you.

How Do I Stretch For Back Pain?

Back pain is one of the most common medical conditions in existence. In fact, it’s one of the most common reasons people go to see the doctor in the first place. 80% of people are predicted to encounter back pain at some point in their lives, so it’s good to know how to stretch the back in the event that pain comes.

It’s important to exercise discernment with these stretches because they will impact your spine. Your spine is vital, and depending on your body type or preexisting conditions, you could possibly injure yourself or even break your spine.

This is a worst-case scenario for the average person, but never be afraid to bring up concerns to your doctor or schedule an evaluation with a physical therapist.

Standing Hamstring Stretch 

This exercise may require a bit of balance and flexibility. To perform it, stand next to a low tabletop or platform of some kind with feet shoulder-width apart. Then extend one leg across the platform, nice and straight, without bending your supporting leg.

Lastly, reach towards the foot of your extended leg, but don’t overdo it. Just enough to feel a bit of burn in the stretch. When your right leg is across the platform, reach your left hand to your right ankle. When your left leg is stretched, reach your right hand to your left ankle.

Cat and Camel 

For this stretch, get down on all fours (hands and knees). Make sure your back is a straight line parallel with the floor. To commence the stretch, dip your back down, puffing your chest towards the floor.

Do this in small sets to bring both relief and flexibility. If you want to turn it into more of a strength exercise, extend your right arm and left leg, balancing on your right knee and left arm. Then switch sides, extending your left arm and right leg while balancing on your left knee and right arm to stretch your upper back.

Thrusts

Thrusts can alleviate some lower back pain, but they exercise the glutes and hamstrings. Glutes are essential for walking, so strengthening them could relieve other types of discomfort.

Simply lay flat on your back but bend your knees upwards. The push up so your pelvis is in the air. Hold it there for as long as you can and slowly come back down, or hold it in the air for shorter amounts of time and perform more sets.

Trunk Rotation

Once again, lie flat on your back with your knees bent upwards. From here, make sure your back is still flat and unmoving, but slowly sway your knees (both) from left side to right side.

Slow and steady is key, so your muscles are worked out. But doing these motions will also stretch the muscle groups in your back. If you need some balance, use your arms to keep your body from swiveling with your legs.

Piriformis Stretches

Once again, lay flat on your back with your knees bent upwards. From here, there are a number of things to do that will stretch your back and legs simultaneously. If your legs or joints are experiencing any tightness or soreness, this can help to loosen them. Pull both your knees towards your chest with your arms, similar to the fetal position.

Then, focus on pulling one leg instead, but flatten your other leg on the ground to stretch both muscles. While pulling one leg, instead of flattening the other, cross it over on top of the leg being stretched. In each pull, keep it there for about 30 seconds, then release.

Cobra Stretches

For this exercise, lay flat on your stomach with your legs nice and straight and prop your upper torso up by leaning on your forearms and elbows. From there, begin to take weight off of your forearms and put it more on your hands as you push up and make your back more vertical.

Your upper body should be the only thing moving while pushing — don’t let your legs or buttocks move around.

How Do I Stretch Before Vs. After Workouts? 

Aside from pain, stretching is also part of a healthy warm-up and workout routine. A good stretching routine is vital for loosening tension in your body and priming the muscles before a workout, as well as making sure they maintain blood flow afterward.

Doing these things can ensure that your workouts achieve their full effect and help reduce your risk of injury. Both dynamic and static stretches are needed for a good workout. Make sure to perform dynamic stretches before the workout and static stretches for afterward.

Dynamic stretches are almost like small exercises in themselves to get the blood flowing, muscles loose, and heart pumping. Dynamic stretches include things like jumping jacks, planks, or squats.

Static stretches are slower, calmer, and meant to be held for longer moments compared to dynamic stretches. These are simple and are meant to increase blood flow and alleviate sore muscles after a workout.

You may feel a bit of discomfort during static stretches after a hard workout because you’re stretching the muscles that have just been used. Static stretches include cobra stretches, shoulder stretches, elbow stretches, and leg stretches–and remember to hold them.

Stretching your major muscle groups can help you achieve optimal strength, full range of motion, and improved flexibility. This can be important for both a good workout routine and for alleviating pain. Athletes need their stretches to work and shape the body properly.

Gymnasts, for example, wouldn’t be able to hold their weight or do splits without stretching their muscles, like hip flexors, inner thighs, and ligaments in the groin consistently and for long periods of time.

Conclusion

Improving your mobility or gaining strength is sometimes unique to your body. Finding what works for you is both a matter of listening to your body, learning what hurts and what burns and what doesn’t. It’s also a matter of talking to your doctor or physical therapist to find which routine suits you best.

We hope these tips have been insightful and help keep your body as healthy as possible. Click here if you’re curious about any of our other articles!

Sources:

Simple Stretches To Relieve Back Pain | The Spine Center

Stretch to Success: The Best Pre- and Post-Workout Stretches to Add to Your Routine | ATIPT

Stretching for Strength & Flexibility | DareBee

Stretching: Focus on flexibility | Mayo Clinic

Healthy Directions Staff Editor