Beginner Stretching Routine – 5 Stretches Everyone Needs Daily
Whether you’re a hard-core gym addict or just someone with low back pain, we all know we need to stretch more often. A big part of improving flexibility is consistency, however, you probably don’t have two hours a day to work on every body part. In addition to this practical fact, most people are unaware that passive stretching is not a complete solution to fix flexibility problems. In truth it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Below we’ll cover:
- What happens to your body when stretching
- Why most people don’t get results from stretching
- How to get flexibility faster
- The most critical aspect to flexibility no-one is using
- 5 simple stretches that give you the biggest ROI for your time
What does Stretching Really Do?
At the microscopic level your muscles are made up of a sarcomere which is comprised of thin (myosin) and thick (actin) filaments that move towards one another during a contraction and away when at rest or being stretched. Sarcomeres are connected end to end and then bundled together in larger and larger groups to create a muscle. So, to think about it simply, when a muscle contracts all of the sarcomeres are shortening.
When stretching the actin and myosin filaments are pulled apart to their end contraction. Not all sarcomeres are “stretched out” evenly when a stretch is performed, but more and more can be as flexibility training is practiced more often. In addition to the sarcomeres themselves other connective tissues are affected. The fibers that make up, say tendons, are pulled into the same direction. This has a big impact on fibers that are disorganized, as in scar tissue, to realign them in the same direction.
Mind over matter
The nervous system also has a large impact on flexibility. Your muscles and tendons have sensors throughout them and send information central nervous system (CNS). These sensors can sense things like like, pressure, and tension and the rate at which that changes. They get orders back from the brain and actually control what you can do with you muscles. A huge part of gaining more available range of motion is training your nervous system to allow you into those ranges.
Trust is everything
When you spend more time stretching consistently your nervous system trusts you won’t be injured in these positions and actually allows you to use bigger ranges. Essentially you are habituating your nervous system to the positions you’re stretching in. As you’ll read below, we work with specific breathing and contracting techniques to speed up this process.
How most people waste their time with bad stretching techniques.
Position. Position. Position. There’s a monumental difference between lazy stretching and stretching with purpose. You need to put yourself in a strong position that carries over to good posture and proper lifting techniques. The number one reason the majority of people don’t get a benefit from stretching is because they’re just going through the motions.
I’ve seen countless people in the gym focus on every detail of their squat or bench technique. When it comes to the cool down, the technique used for each stretch is an after thought. Plop down on the yoga mat, open up instagram on the phone, and hang out for a minute.
Here are 3 ways to improve your stretches:
- Bow the Stretch
- Deep breathing
- Stretch with the movement in mind
Step One: Bowing the Stretch
Never sacrifice your position for more range of motion (ROM). People consistently “cheat” during a stretch for two reason: they really don’t want to realize how bad their flexibility and/or they are honestly unaware of the position they are assuming and how their body looks. These are a few simple cues you can use to improve any stretch.
- Sit with a tall chest and think about having your belly button pulled forward as if it was attached to a string.
- Push your hips behind you and make sure they are even.
- Breath into you stomach to stabilize the torso.
Step Two: Diaphragmatic Breathing
Deep belly breathing has long been shown to calm down the nervous system and does a great job of moving the deep abdominal muscles. These muscles don’t get too much attention if you set all day, especially if you’re stressed out. Shallow chest breathing is what most people practice all.
Step Three: Stretch how you want to move.
Let’s describe this last point with a deep runners lunge stretch and the body weight squat. When performing the runners lunge correctly the front leg is a mirror image to one side of a proper squat. It’s obvious that if you stretch in this position it will have a direct impact to the way you squat. This is a great rule of thumb with most stretches. Work backwards from a movement it resembles and try to match the stretch position to the movement position.
Get flexible faster with PNF Stretching.
Surprisingly most people don’t know about contract-relax stretching, or PNF stretching (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation). This is stretching technique that utilizes the nervous systems involvement in flexibility. The concept is straight forward: load up in your stretch of choice contract the muscle group you are focusing on. Contract and relax in a 1:3 ratio (hold for 10s then relax for 30s) repeat for 2-3 sets.
Don’t forget about the opposite contraction
Furthermore even people who do know about PNF / contract-relax stretching rarely contract in both directions. Take our hamstring stretch example. Most people, even if the power of PNF, only contract down (or away). After completing 2-3 sets using the hamstring to push down and deepen the stretch, complete 2-3 sets using the quad muscles to pull the leg closer to the chest and away from the floor. Now we’re working both sides of the system and results are nothing but guaranteed.
Dynamic Stretching on Steroids
If PNF stretching doesn’t blow your mind then this section will. Good movement is really what most people are after. From athlete to senior citizen, if you move better you’re happier. Although stretching is great, good movement requires movement training that works at both a joint capsule and neuromuscular level. Here at Redux we focus heavily in our Mobility University Membership on a practice developed by Functional Range Systems called CARs (Controlled Articular Rotations). These might seem like fancy hip, neck, and shoulder circles. However, I promise they are much more technical and beneficial than that.
Slightly contract all the muscles in your body, this will force you to only move where you intend. If you rotate your torso when focusing on your shoulder you’re not doing a shoulder movement anymore, make sense?
Complete as large a circle as possible at the joint combining all of the possible movements available. I.E. at the hip we have flexion, extension, internal & external rotation, abduction, and finally adduction. Combine all of these for a full circle. Move in both directions.
The Best Beginner Stretches
- Seated 90-90 Stretch
Each leg is bent into a 90 degree position. The front leg is being stretched into external rotation and the rear leg into internatl rotation. Watch that the back hip is “open” and the thigh is facing forward. You should feel a stretch in the front glute and thigh. Make sure your hips are set up underneath the toros.
2) The pigeon pose
This is a classic yoga pose and a great stretch. You’ll notice the front leg resembles the front leg in the 90-90 stretch. A huge stretch is going to happen in the back hip flexor, too. If you have extremely tight hip flexors you might need to spend some time stretching them or use the 90-90 stretch for a while.
3) Kneeling Pass-Through Stretch
This is a fantastic stretch. You’ll be working on thoracic (mid back) rotation, some of the rotator cuff muscles, and even one of the tricep muscles. It’s essential that you make this stretch similar from left to right. I’ve noticed my less flexible side is the one I have trouble sleeping on.
4) Deep Runner’s Lunge Stretch with Rotation
This stretch has a few important cues to follow, make sure you watch the stretch summary video below. You get a great hamstring and hip flexor stretch here.
5) Standing Peck Stretch
Pecks are tight on practically everyone I’ve ever worked with, even if you don’t have an expensive history of bench pressing. Typing and texting roll the shoulder girdle forward and over years our body adopts that position full time. This stretch can be an important part of restoring good posture, reducing shoulder pain, and even allow you to breath deeper.
Why These Five Stretches?
I chose these stretches for three primary reasons:
- Relatively simple – even though if there are important cues to follow.
- Multiple joints and muscles are covered with each position.
- Consistency – once again if you know 100 stretches but do none of them, you wont get any benefit. Stick with 5 until you’ve set good habits.
There are obviously dozens of other great stretches and please learn them and mix them in as you progress. Set a schedule that’s realistic, doing even one stretch a day will build discipline. The more you advance the more addictive the progress will be.
Lastly, remember there’s more to mobility than just passive stretches. It doesn’t take much time to add rotational training and isometrics (contract and relax) to your routine.
I’ve made this post for beginners, but don’t be naive and think this is all there is to mobility. It goes deep. As stated above, however, most people don’t benefit from stretching because they just don’t do it consistently. Stick with these 5 stretches for a minimum of 2 minutes (each side) for a full week and you’ll notice a difference. If you are really pressed for time, pick one upper body and one lower body stretch and rotate between the stretches from day to day.
Need more in-depth information on mobility and consistent programing? Join the Redux Mobility University now.