Stretching to help you wake up each day has benefits for your body, mind and spirit. Personal trainer Andrew Cate explains how to get the most out of your stretches.
Why stretch in the morning?
When you lay curled up sleeping, resting idle for several hours, your muscles can become stiff and tight. If you see a cat or dog wake up from a sleep, you'll notice that the first thing they do is stretch. It's Mother Nature's way of ironing out the kinks.
Early-morning stretches can help loosen and realign your muscles, and they are a gentle way to increase blood flow throughout your body. What's more, your body is usually already warm from being in bed, which allows for more effective stretching. Plus, it's a calming way to help your body and mind transcend from a rested to a woken state.
Can stretching boost your confidence?
Yes, it's a good way to cope with your day-to-day physical and emotional stresses. Doing something positive for your health first thing in the morning can be a real boost to your sense of self-worth. Research published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology in 1997 has shown that exercise can bring about a significant increase in physical self-concept or self-esteem in both genders across all age groups.
How long to hold a stretch?
There is much debate among fitness professionals about how long you should hold a stretch. Fortunately, a study published in the African Journal of Biomedical Research in 2005 has helped to clear up any confusion. Researchers discovered that a 15-second stretch is just as effective as a 30, 60, 90, or 120 second stretch at increasing flexibility. For optimal results, incorporate three phases into your stretching to loosen muscles and reduce tension.
Phase 1. Ease in gradually move into a light stretch and hold until the feeling of tension begins to diminish (usually after five to 10 seconds).
Phase 2. The development now your stretch receptors have begun to disengage, you can move a fraction further into the stretch until you feel mild tension again. Hold for another five to 10 seconds.
Phase 3. Repeat it is also beneficial to repeat phases one and two (perform a second set of the same stretch) after a short rest.
What muscles to stretch?
Focus on stretching the major muscle groups in your legs, gluteals, lower and upper back. The following five stretches are a good starting point to target these muscles.
- Front of thighs stand on one leg and pull the heel of your other leg towards your bottom until you feel slight tension in the muscles in the front of your thigh. Hold, and repeat on the opposite leg.
- Back of thighs place one leg straight out in front of you on top of a stable object, and reach for (or over) your toes. Hold, and repeat on the opposite leg.
- Buttocks lie on your back, bringing one bent knee towards your chest. Hold and repeat on the opposite leg.
- Upper back while standing, slowly raise both hands above your head and reach as high as you can.
- Lower back lying on your back, slowly bring one knee up and across over your straightened leg until you feel a stretch in your trunk. Keep both shoulders squarely on the ground. Hold, and repeat on opposite leg.
Tips for safe and effective stretching
- Hold each stretch for approximately 15 seconds.
- While you may feel warm, your heart rate is not elevated first thing in the morning, so stretch lightly. Don't stretch to the point of pain.
- Avoiding sudden, jerky, bouncing movements.
- Do a little bit of stretching regularly (every morning) rather than a big stretch infrequently for the best results.
- Work at your own pace and don't compare your stretching with others.
- Relax and breathe freely during each stretch. This helps maximise the calming effect of flexibility training.