Stretching is one of the most overlooked parts of a well-rounded fitness lifestyle. Here’s how to fit it into your day in just 5 minutes.
Why you should stretch more
I think we all know we should stretch more often, but so many of us avoid it. Why? I’m not sure (even though I’ve been guilty of it myself in the past). Perhaps it’s because stretching seems boring or unnecessary. Or maybe people don’t know how to do it.
The truth is, stretching is quick, easy, and free to do. And the benefits are immediate and far-reaching, from improving the way you move to reducing pain and stiffness. There’s really no reason to avoid it, and every reason to do it.
What’s the best time of day to stretch?
There’s no ideal time of day to stretch, but there are pros and cons to stretching in the morning, evening, before and after training. The best time of day to stretch is “any time”, especially if you’re currently not doing it at all. Like every other fitness habit, it’s better to commit to a “less than perfect” routine rather than aim for perfection and not actually do it.
Stretching in the morning
Build 5 minutes of stretching into your morning routine and you’ll certainly start the day feeling good. But what are the actual benefits? Stretching after a night in bed will ease out any stiffness (particularly in the lower back, shoulders, neck) and get you moving optimally before you go into a day of sitting down.
Stretching in the evening
An evening stretch can help to ease any aches and pains that have built up during the day, from training or driving or sitting at your computer. It means you’ll get into bed with those issues addressed – and could even mean you sleep better. (1)
Stretching during the work day
Many people think stretching has to be done as one long dedicated session, but there’s lots to be said for several short “stretching breaks” throughout the day. These could be as short as 90 seconds of moving your body through a forward fold (for lower back stiffness), shoulder rolls, or door frame chest stretches.
Stretching before or after training
The debate over pre or post training stretching still rages in fitness circles. A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy concluded that dynamic stretching seems best for increasing range of movement, and should be incorporated into your warm up, and static stretching has a key role in helping older adults (over 65) stay more mobile. (2)
As an online fitness coach, my professional opinion is that both types are useful: dynamic stretching or mobility work before training will help loosen you up and move your body through its end range of movement, and static stretching after training will ease off any stiffness and prevent you from tightening up.
Dynamic vs static stretching
For many years, people thought stretching had to mean passively holding still movements for 30 seconds or more. The most up to date research tells us that there’s a big difference between dynamic (active) and static (passive) stretching – and you should probably do both throughout the week.
Dynamic stretching is the type you would do in preparation for training (especially weight training). It involves active movement rather than static holds. Things like bodyweight lunges, yoga “sun salutations”, and walking knee to chest are examples of dynamic stretching.
Static stretching is the kind of stretch you can hold, and usually feels best after training or at the end of the day. Examples are forward folds, hamstring stretches, and thoracic twists for your upper back.
5 benefits of stretching regularly
Improve your posture
Modern life isn’t great for posture, with all that time spent looking at our phones and working at the computer. Stretches and mobility work can ease common areas of tightness that pull us into poor posture (hip flexors, shoulders, lower back, neck).
Increase range of movement
Stretching will help prevent loss of range and actively increase your range of movement – this means how easily and how far you can move your joints and connective tissue. This will help you move about during the day and will have a big impact on your training.
Decrease common aches and pains
We all suffer with stiffness as we get older, usually in the lower back, neck, shoulders, knees or toes. Both types of stretching are a great way to ease this tightness and get fresh blood flowing into connective tissue.
Help prevent injury
Regular stretching will keep you more mobile and agile, which will translate into better quality of movement during sport and training. Stretching will also reduce your likelihood of getting injured through everyday movements like bending, lifting and carrying.
Speed up recovery
When you start getting into exercise, the last thing you want is to be held back by muscle soreness. 5 minutes of stretching every day before or after training will boost your recovery rate and make you feel much better.
How to stretch in 5 minutes
I strongly believe 5 minutes of stretching once a day is worth it. Choose a time of day that will work for you so it becomes a regular habit. Then try this simple 5 minute routine:
1) Jefferson curls – start standing, curl down through your neck and spine, to a forward fold, and curl back up slowly
2) Cat/cow stretch – on all fours in tabletop position, flexing through the spine with chin and tail tucked under, to head and tail to the ceiling
3) Child’s pose – toes together, knees wide, sit back on your heels with your chest towards the floor and arms stretched out in front
4) Hip flexor stretch – take one leg forward into a lunge and tuck the tail under to feel a stretch at the front of that hip. Repeat on the other side.
5) Lower back stretch – sit with legs in a wide straddle (as wide as you can manage). Take your right elbow inside your right leg and reach the left hand overhead as you bend to the right. Reach across and repeat the other side.
6) Sit in a low squat (holding onto a light kettlebell or similar as a counterbalance)
7) Slowly roll up to standing
8) Stretch the neck gently from side to side
9) Roll your shoulders backwards several times to finish
Best online personal trainer stretching routine video
Check out my 12-minute routine on YouTube, perfect for any time of the day! [CLICK HERE]
‘The number one rated Personal Trainer In Henley and Oxfordshire’
References used in todays blog: