It’s not a stretch to say that stretching is important, maybe more than you think.
Stretching correctly can help improve athletic performance and decrease the risk of injury. Even if you’re not a fitness enthusiast, regular stretching can help with your overall flexibility and mobility.
Here’s how to start your day off the right way with the best morning stretch routine.
Why Start a Stretch Routine?
Stretching is a tried-and-true method for keeping your body in working order.
“Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints,” according to the Harvard Health blog. “Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains and muscle damage.”
Of course, you should still support your body in other ways as well, like eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep.
The Rules of Stretching Safely
Start slowly. While stretching, you’ll want to feel some tension or a slight burning sensation but no pain.
“While it’s normal to feel some tension when stretching a muscle, you should never feel pain,” according to Healthline. “If the area you are stretching starts to hurt, back off the stretch until you don’t feel any discomfort.”
Use smooth movements and remember to breathe while stretching. Avoid bouncing, which can cause accidental injury. Also, make sure to do an equal number of stretches for each side of your body.
“Everyone’s genetics for flexibility are a bit different. Rather than striving for the flexibility of a dancer or gymnast, focus on having equal flexibility side to side (especially if you have a history of a previous injury),” according to the Mayo Clinic. “Flexibility that is not equal on both sides may be a risk factor for injury.”
Why Stretch in the Morning?
Repetition is key when it comes to stretching. Doing stretches every morning and making it a part of your routine will allow you to reap the most benefits.
Try to do your stretches daily – or at least two to four times per week.
“Skipping regular stretching means you risk losing the potential benefits,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “For instance, if stretching helped you increase your range of motion, your range of motion may decrease again if you stop stretching.”
Choosing Your Stretch Routine
Types of Stretches
There are several different types of stretches, but the two major ones are static and dynamic.
Dynamic or active stretches, such as lunges, kicks and pushups, should be done before a light to moderate workout. This type of warmup stretches your muscles in a way that prepares them for additional exercise.
Static stretches involve flexing a muscle as far as you can (comfortably) and holding that position for a set amount out time – typically 10 to 30 seconds. This type of stretch is commonly used in yoga. Static stretches focus on a specific muscle group at a time and are good for post-workout cooldowns.
Do dynamic stretches if you plan to exercise afterward and static stretches if you’re just limbering up for the day.
No matter which route you choose, don’t roll right out of bed and start stretching. You want to warm up your muscles for a quick five to 10 minutes before beginning your morning stretch routine.
“Cold muscles are not as pliable, which makes stretching a lot more difficult,” according to Healthline. “The best time to stretch is after you work out, but if you’re not exercising before performing your stretches, consider warming up for five to 10 minutes with some light cardio, such as walking or jogging.”
So, while your morning coffee is brewing, take a few laps around the house, walk up and down the stairs a few times, hop on your elliptical or treadmill or do some other low-intensity activity.
Knowing What to Stretch
A good morning stretch routine should only take about five to 10 minutes.
Use this time to stretch the muscles you use most often, specifically leg muscles – like your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors (pelvis) and quadriceps – along with your shoulders, neck and lower back.
Hold each stretch/position for 10 to 30 seconds.
Examples of Stretch Routines
You can customize your morning stretch routine to cater to the muscles you use the most, avoid old injuries, etc.
If you need inspiration, there are plenty of routines available online. This 5-minute daily stretching routine from Healthline, five morning stretching exercises from Verywell Health and five dynamic warmup stretches to do before every run from Runner’s World are all good examples to start with.
When to Talk to a Doctor
If you have an acute or chronic pre-existing injury, you may want to seek outside help when planning your stretch routine.
“Find a physical therapist (your local Y is a good place to start) who can assess your muscle strength and tailor a stretching program to fit your needs,” according to the Harvard Health blog. “If you have chronic conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or arthritis, you’ll want to clear a new stretching regimen with your doctor before you start.”
Those with certain medical conditions should only perform stretches recommended by a doctor.
Looking for more ways to improve your fitness? Check out our stories on the best outdoor workouts, indoor senior workouts, indoor workouts to stay fit and boost immunity and how to track your health with fitness apps and other tech.