While sheer muscle strength or cardiovascular endurance can be desirable and certainly benefit the body, there is perhaps no group of exercises so useful for everyday movement as those which work on flexibility. These are described by the NHS as activities ‘that improve the ability of a joint to maintain the movement necessary for carrying out daily tasks and physical activity.’ Increased ease of mobility, reduced aches, pains and strain and a boosted energy level are all immediate benefits of flexibility exercises, making them ideal for interspersing throughout your daily routine, as well as in preparation for more intense forms of workout. In fact, any activity that involves movement will benefit from stretching. Being anti-inflammatory, these sorts of movements can help maintain muscles in the long run.
Here are some stretches you can try right now:
These exercises, derived from yoga’s asanas, work on a variety of muscles and joints. Here are a select few.
Cat cow pose: This yoga position works on the spine and abdominals. Beginning on all fours with your toes touching the ground, curve the back inwards and raise your head as you draw in a deep breath to achieve the cow pose. In switching to the cat pose, raise the back into an arc, flatten you feet so that your heels point upwards and curl the head slightly inwards. Alternate between the two, holding position for the same amount of time.
Happy baby pose: Lying on your back, fold your knees towards your chest, stick your feet up and pull back the soles of your feet using your hands. You can also gently rock on your back.
Standing forward bend/raised arms pose: In a standing formation, root your feet in an even spacing and flop your upper body forward, reaching for the floor – you may find it difficult at first. Afterwards, come up slowly, lift up your head and reach both arms into the air.
Plank pose: In a push-up stance, lift yourself off the ground with your arms, keeping them at a right-angle to the ground. Your legs should be straight so that your feet are poised on their tips. The back should be neither curved or arching, but straight and stable. Hold this pose for as long as you can, then gently come down to the ground.
Garland pose: Stand with your feet in line with your shoulders and toes slightly pointing outwards. Keeping your back straight, go into a squatting pose whilst keeping your hands together for balance.
The hamstring muscles, located behind the thighs, are key for walking and general mobility, though susceptible to tightness. They can also influence lower back pain. These warm-ups should keep them well-flexed.
Floor hamstring stretch: Sitting on the floor with your back and legs straight, slowly bend forward whilst keeping the legs still. Hold for up to 30 seconds.
Hurdler stretch: A more challenging variation on this is involves curling one of the legs inwards, so that the sole faces the opposite thigh, or outwards. Hold for up to 10 seconds when starting out.
Wall stretch: Sitting close to a wall, lift both legs so that they are perpendicular to your torso. Alternatively, you can use a corner to lift one while the other is straight on the floor.
Seated hamstring stretch: Sitting on a chair, straighten one leg whilst bending the other comfortably and point the foot upwards. As you bend your upper body forwards you should feel a strain. Hold this for a few seconds and alternate legs.
Lunge hamstring stretch: This more challenging stretch begins in a kneeling position. Stetch one leg forwards and point your toes upwards while using the other leg as a stabiliser. Try to keep your back straight as you do this. Then hold and alternate.
Upper body stretches
If you want to improve mobility in your arms, shoulders and neck then try some of these.
Triceps stretch: Standing straight, reach for your left shoulder blade with your left arm, then gently pull on your left elbow with your right; this should create a triangle formation. Hold this for 20 seconds and switch them round.
Kneeling backbend: Starting in a kneeling position, curl your arms behind you so that you are able to press the palms of your hands against your lower back; stretch the neck muscles by pulling your head upwards. A more challenging variation requires you curve your back further so that you can touch your heels. It’s important throughout that the lower body doesn’t move.
Cross-shoulder stretch: With your legs crossed, lift your left arm across your chest so that it’s parallel with the floor, then use your right arm to bring it as close to the body so that you feel a strain in the upper arm and back. Hold for 20 seconds and switch arms.
Trapezius stretch: Standing with feet parallel and hip-distance apart, stretch your arms out straight in front of you, interlocking your fingers and applying pressure. You should feel some strain in your upper arms and chest.
Marionette stretch: This simple stretch is performed on a chair. Sitting with legs shoulder- width apart, imagine a string that runs through your head, spine and tailbone is being pulled. Slowly feeling your head and back straighten as your arms drop to the sides.
Here are an assortment of alternative stretches you can try.
Frog stretch: From an all fours position, splay your knees out so that they go beyond the width of your shoulders. Arms should be kept perpendicular to the ground with flat palms and toes should be pointing outwards. If you are not feeling a strain, then gently push your legs further apart while keeping your back straight. Hold for 30 seconds or longer. You can even sway a little bit to simulate a hoping motion.
Side bend stretch: Again, begin with kneeling while maintaining a straight back. Extend your left leg sideways while using the other for support. Then, lift your right arm straight above you and gently curve your back towards the outstretched leg, using your left arm to support it behind the lower tendon. Hold this and then mirror the formation with the right leg.
Lying pectoral stretch: This restorative exercise begins with you lying on your stomach. Stretch your arms out both sides and turn your left palm inward to the ground. Using your right hand as a leverage, bring your body up so you are facing the left side. You should be bending your left knee inwards as you do this. Aim for a fluid motion as you roll over.
Back knee stretch: Lying on your back, bring either leg inwards to the chest and pull down on it with both arms. You should be keeping the feet parallel as you do this. Hold this pose for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Now do the same for the other leg.
Standing quad stretch: With your feet together, kick back your left foot and grab it with your left hand. You may want something to lean on as this exercise can be initially challenging. The aim is to hold the pose by continually pulling the foot back, using a straight posture (and the opposite arm if necessary) to maintain balance.