Many yoga poses involve active stretching.
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Most of us don't have a daily stretching routine, but regular flexibility training doesn't need to take long and has tremendous benefits for the human body, especially as you get older. Along with aerobic activity and resistance training, mobility and flexibility work is a third key component that makes up a complete fitness program. Stretching loosens muscles both literally and figuratively, primes the body for more intense activity and, when done properly, reduces your risk of injury. Not all stretching is equal, however, so it's worth learning more about the different types and when to use each in your fitness routines.
Passive Stretching 101
Passive stretching is probably what immediately jumps to mind when you think about flexibility training. Stretching passively involves putting your body into a position that you don't have to work to hold - for example, standing up and sliding your legs apart in a straddle until you have reached your end range of motion. Your feet and the ground (rather than your muscles) are doing the work of keeping you in that position. Passive stretching can sometimes help relieve muscle spasms and is a great component to include after an aerobic or strength workout, when your muscles are already warm and stretching can help relax them.
Get Active and Stretch
Active stretching involves moving muscles to their end range of motion and holding them there just on their own power - for example, arching over in a backbend and activating your muscles to hold that position. Many yoga positions are forms of active stretching. Because active stretches involve a lot of muscle work to hold, they are tiring and challenging to maintain for longer than a few seconds, but they make great additions to warmups to prepare you for the types of dynamic movements you'll perform in a workout.
Try a Static Stretching Routine
All of these stretches can be performed in just a few seconds and are a great way to take a break from a long workday of sitting at a desk. Hold each position for about 30 seconds.
- Neck stretch: Roll your neck to the left and hold the top of your head with your left hand. Pull very gently until you feel a stretch in your neck. Repeat on the right side.
- Lat stretch: Stand 3 to 4 feet away from a desk or the top of a chair. Place your hands on the desk or chair as you hinge forward with the hips at about a 90-degree angle. Look down and think of moving your chest toward the ground until you feel a stretch in your back and shoulders.
- Hamstring stretch: Stand up with feet shoulder-width apart and hinge forward at the hips, reaching for your toes, until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs.
Add an Active Stretching Routine
These stretches also take very little time and have the benefit of working your muscles to hold the positions. Hold each stretch for 5 to 10 seconds.
- Hamstring stretch: Lie on your back and lift one leg off the ground. Lift the leg as high as you can and hold it at that position before lowering slowly.
- Low back stretch: Stand up and lift one leg, bending the knee and bringing the knee as close to your chest as possible. Hold the position before lowering slowly.
- Lunge with twist: Sink into a runner's lunge with your left leg forward and right leg back. Place your right hand on the floor next to your left foot and raise your left arm into the air, twisting your torso to your left. Lift and twist as much as you can, hold the position briefly and then lower slowly and switch sides.