How To Optimize Your Stretching Routine

              My stretching routine has been tweaked many times over the past few years. As I have gained more interest in my flexibility and further realized the importance of flexibility and mobility, my dedication to becoming more flexible has only grown. I worked out a flexibility routine that has helped me in my problem areas. My problems areas are my ankles, hamstrings, lower back, hip flexors, hips, quads, and neck. First, allow me to clarify what I mean by “problem areas” because I know that sounds like a lot. By problem areas, I don’t necessarily mean they are a problem today. However, I mean these areas are on the list due to a past injury, future injury prevention, and/or to increase performance.

              First lets breakdown why I chose these areas of my body to focus on. I’ll start from the ground up with my ankles. Ankle mobility has never been a problem for me. I played a lot of sports and sure I’ve twisted ankles many times. It’s practically a part of the sports I played. Nevertheless, the reason ankles are on the list are for injury prevention and performance improvement. With better ankle mobility, I am able to push the limits of what I ask my ankles to do while decreasing the risk of injury. The ankle part of my stretching routine entails a simple calf stretch. I do this for 2 sets of 12 seconds each ankle.

              The next area on the list is quads and hip flexors. Here is another area where I haven’t had much bad luck with. I have slightly pulled my right quad due to a lack of warming up before soccer, but that’s about it. To me, quads and hip flexors belong in the same grouping. I’ve noticed tightness in my hip flexors before but never to the point where I was sidelined from it. For these reason, I work this area out due to injury prevention and to increase performance. I have noticed a much better feeling while running and post run when this area is nice and loose. Most people who think of a quad stretch think they have a good idea of what to do. I’m here to tell you that the way you’re thinking of isn’t really getting the job done. A much more effective way is to place the knee of the quad being stretched on the ground or table or bench, tilt your body back so that you feel a stretch in your hip flexor, then pull your ankle to your butt. This is a much better stretch as it incorporates more of the quad and also activates the hip flexor. This stretch is relatively new to my routine and I am really enjoying the effect it’s having so far. For this, I do 2 sets of 12 sets each leg.

              Next on the list we have hamstrings. This is a big one for me. I have had plenty of back pain throughout college and into my early adult years. I have also had some of the tightest hamstrings on the planet. As a matter of fact, tight hamstrings can lead to back pain. Your body is all connected and when one thing is out of whack, your body will let you know. For me, my hamstrings were the weak link in the chain. Making hamstring stretches a daily thing for me was a way to deal with this issue and it really worked. For this reason, hamstring flexibility was an injury prevention issue as well as a way to increase my performance. I have been sidelined due to back pain to the point where one morning I couldn’t even put on my socks. I have put a lot of effort into finding the best hamstring stretches and putting in the time to do them. There is a similar story here as there was with the quad stretch. Most people think they know how to stretch their hamstrings. However, there is a much more effective way to do these. When you simply bend over to touch your toes, you’re not really targeting your hamstrings. Your body finds the path of least resistance and for most people, arching their back is the easiest way for them to touch their toes. This does very little for the hamstrings. A much better method for stretching the hamstrings would be one of two ways. The best way would be to lay on your back and either have a friend lift one leg and stretch that way or use a rope or band to do that yourself. The benefit here is that your back is straight. This targets your hamstrings more. You want your back to have as little arch as possible by keeping it straight laying on the floor, all the stretch is isolated on your hamstrings. The other way would be to lean over and touch your toes while standing straight up. However, it is crucial that you focus on keeping your back straight. You almost want to stick your butt out and curve your back in the other way as you bend down. You may be amazed how inflexible you really are when you keep your back straight. For this I do 2 – 4 sets of 12 seconds for each leg.

              Next on the list we have hips. My hips have never bothered me before. Nor have I ever stretched them consistently. But with my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training, I have noticed the lack of mobility I have in that area. In most martial arts, hip mobility can give you a leg up on your opponent. I noticed there was some flaws in my transitions and submissions in BJJ and this was mainly due to the lack of mobility in my hips. For this reason, I perform hip stretches to increase my performance. There are plenty of hip stretches that are out there like trying to do a split or butterflies. However, the most effective way I have found is by getting down on all fours, spreading your knees as far apart as you can make them go, then leaning back. You want to push your butt towards your ankles while keeping your back straight. This stretch is a killer. It is important to stay in control and to go slow. I can’t stress that enough. I like to sit in this position for a while so I will do one big set of 45 seconds to a minute.

              The final stretch on my list is a neck stretch. This comes in three parts. Part one is to simply roll the neck from side to side, trying to keep the chin close to the chest as it moves across. Part two is to use both hands and place them behind your head, pulling your head down. It’s very important to do all these stretches very slowly as the neck is very delicate. The last part to this is to pull you neck from side to side. Take your right hand and grab the opposite side of your head and pull down to your right shoulder. Do the same for the other side as well. Neck pain has been more of a problem as I started working at a desk. Doing these stretches makes it feel much better and I’m also able to sleep better because of it. I do about 30 seconds for each part for my neck.

              That rounds off my list. In total, this takes me no longer than 20 minutes. I’ll recap below what I do. Flexibility and mobility have always been something I want to improve on. Your body thanks you when you focus on this crucial aspect of our fitness. Whether you’re playing a sport or trying to maintain physical well-being, stretching leads to you feeling better, preventing injury, and promotes the longevity of your body.

  1. Ankles
    1. Calf stretch – 2 x 12 seconds each foot
  2. Quads
    1. Hip flexor activated quad stretch – 2 x 12 seconds each leg
  3. Hamstrings
    1. Straight back hamstring stretch – 3 x 12 seconds each leg
  4. Hips
    1. Hip stretch – 1 x 45-60 seconds
  5. Neck
    1. Neck stretches – 1 x 30 seconds

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