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Physical activity is known to assist in weight loss, reduce risk of chronic disease, increase metabolism, and improve sleep quality. It is, however, less likely that the general public is aware of the importance of properly warming up before exercising any part of the body. This Instructable will cover methods that stretch individual muscles (isolated), as well as groups of muscles (compound) in addition to different types of moving (dynamic) or still (static) stretches.

Step 1: Cardio

It is important to engage in at least 5-10 minutes of cardio before beginning any type of stretching. This 1) "warms" the muscles and 2) elevates heart rate which increases blood flow, two factors that are necessary for the most efficient stretch. Stretching "cold" muscles can be counter productive and sometimes result in muscle tears or, less severely, soreness. Types of cardio include, but are not limited to, jogging, swimming, running, biking, stair stepping, or any other activity that can make you sweat. It may also help to wear more clothing during this step, as this will physically warm up the body quicker and assist further in increasing heart rate.

Note: Do not over-exert yourself during this first step. Doing so can be counterproductive towards an effective workout since energy levels will be depleted right from the start -- so take it easy!

Step 2: Hamstrings

After cardio, the first muscle group you should stretch are the legs. This is important since they just did most of the work in Step 1, and can easily tighten if they're not stretched right away. Begin with the back of your legs, right behind the knee. This muscle is called the hamstring, and it is responsible for keeping the leg from hyperextending, or bending too far in the opposite direction as it should. In addition, our hamstrings connect through the gluteus (buttocks) and into the lower back, where they help with core stability.

Static Stretches

Stand N' Bend

  1. Stand straight up with your legs together and pointing forward.
  2. Bend at the hip and, keeping the back and both legs straight, touch your toes with both hands.
  3. You should feel this stretch behind the bend of your knee and all along the underside of your legs.

Note: If you cannot reach your toes, try holding onto your shins/ankles for 30 seconds and sliding your hands down to your feet. This will prevent any harmful bouncing while still pushing the stretch to the max.

Seated Reach

  1. Sit on the ground with one leg outstretched straight and the other bent in towards the groin.
  2. Bend at the hip and, keeping the back straight, touch your toes with both hands and hold for 30 seconds.
  3. Repeat for each leg.
  4. You should feel this stretch in the same place, behind the bend of your knee and all along the underside of your leg.
  5. The purpose of sitting and stretching one leg at a time is for muscle isolation, which puts the entire focus of the stretch on one muscle at a time thus making it more effective.

Note: If needed, hold onto your shin/ankle again then work your way down to grabbing the toes.

Dynamic Stretch

Leg Swing

  1. Walk forward with both arms stretched straight out.
  2. With each step, try to swing your leg gently backward then forward, and try to touch your outstretched hands on the forward swing.
  3. Do approximately 12 steps (6 for each leg)

Note: Take this stretch slow, dynamic stretches are not meant to be a race so focus on your balance and really get a full range of motion on each leg swing.

Step 3: Quadriceps

Following the hamstring stretches will be the upper-front area of the legs, called the quadriceps. This muscle group is vital for providing strength in all leg movements from walking and running to sitting and jumping.

Static Stretches

Ground Stretch

  1. Lay flat on your back with both legs outstretched.
  2. Use your arms to pull the right knee back and in towards your chest, almost as if you want it to touch your chin.
  3. Hold for 45 seconds, then repeat on the left leg.

Standing Stretch

  1. Stand straight up, similar to the Stand N' Bend.
  2. Using your right hand, bend the right leg backwards, as seen in the picture above, and pull it upwards towards your right buttock.
  3. Hold for 45 seconds, then repeat on the left side.
  4. Hold onto a table or pole with your free hand for balance if needed.

Note: Remember to keep the quadricep parallel to the rest of your body and perpendicular to the ground (straight up and down). Also, grab the leg at the ankle and not at the shoe as this won't put as much force on your foot during the stretch.

Dynamic Stretch

Kneeling Stretch

  1. Kneel down on your right knee, with your right shin area on the ground and your right quadricep pointing straight down. The left quadricep should be parallel to the ground, with the left foot straight out and the left shin area pointing straight down.
  2. Slowly bend forward from the hip, keeping your back straight and your shoulders and chest upright.
  3. Hold for about 5 seconds then slowly bend back to the starting position.
  4. Repeat this motion for 1 minute, being careful not to move too quickly or push too far in either direction.
  5. Repeat with the left leg kneeling down, and right leg out.

Note: It is very important in this stretch to keep the back straight and chest up. Also, ensure that the knee is not moving forward past the toes, as this will put uncomfortable and possibly damaging strain on the knee cap.

Step 4: Calves

The calves are a small but important muscle group that assist with balance, stability, and pull upward on the heel to allow for forward movement in walking, running, etc. Calve muscles are located below the hamstrings, on the back of the shin area for each leg.

Static Stretch

Wall Wedge

  1. Begin by standing straight up and facing towards a wall, about 6 inches away.
  2. Move the right foot forward, and point your toes up so they leave the ground.
  3. Wedge the foot up against the wall so that it creates a triangle with the ground.
  4. Lean forward towards the wall, keeping your back straight and shoulders upright.
  5. You should feel the stretch mainly in the calf area, but also up the whole back of your leg.
  6. Hold for 45 seconds and repeat for the left calf.

Dynamic Stretch

Toe Balance

  1. For this stretch, you will need a ledge or box of some sort to stand on.
  2. As shown in the picture above, stand on the ledge with only your toes, so that both heels are hanging off of the ledge.
  3. If needed, hold onto and object (wall, pole, partner) for balance.
  4. With only the right foot on the box, the left leg will hover in place for now, control your body down slowly using the strength of your calf muscle.
  5. Move your body up and down 20 times for each leg, being sure to move slowly and focus on utilizing the toes and calf of each leg.

Note: Be extra careful to maintain balance! You do not want to fall backwards and possibly injure yourself or others.

Step 5: Core

The core area of your body is just above and including your hips, but below the chest and upper back. It consists of the abdominal muscles on the front and sides of your body, lower back muscles on the back, and hip and groin region as well. The core muscle group is important because it provides stability and support for every movement the body makes, from walking to standing to sitting and everything in between.

Static Stretch

Spine Rotation

  1. Sit on the front edge of a chair with your feet flat on the ground and chest/shoulders upright.
  2. Rotate your core and upper body to the right, without moving anything below your hips.
  3. Grab on to the back of the chair with both hands, with your head facing directly behind you and over your right shoulder.
  4. Flex your core muscles for 10 seconds.
  5. Slowly return to the starting position.
  6. Repeat for the left side.

Note: Do each movement in this stretch very slowly to avoid over-rotation which could possibly tweak your back muscles.

Dynamic Stretch

Superman

  1. Lie on your stomach on the ground with your arms stretched straight out above your head and your legs straight.
  2. Slowly and carefully, lift your arms, your feet, and arch your back all at the same time.
  3. Push your hips into the ground and continue to arch your back until a gentle stretch in the abdomen is felt.
  4. Hold for about 5 seconds, then control your back, arms, and feet back to the starting position on the ground.
  5. Repeat 3 times.

Note: Discontinue this stretch immediately if any type of lower back pain is felt.

Step 6: Neck and Shoulders

The neck and shoulders can be one of the most problematic areas for students, workers, and athletes as much of our day to day upper-body movement relies on this muscle group. It is important to keep the neck and shoulder muscles loose during any type of activity to allow for full rotation of the arms and proper support of the spine.

Static Stretches

Seated Neck Release

  1. Sit on the ground in a cross-legged (pretzel style) position, as shown above.
  2. Place your right palm completely on the ground, slightly behind your body to the right side.
  3. Use your left hand to reach above and over your head and gently grab the upper-right side of the head.
  4. Gently and slowly tilt your head to the left, adding slight pressure with your left hand for a more intense stretch.
  5. Hold for 30 seconds, then slowly return to the normal position in Step 3.
  6. Repeat for the opposite side.

Behind the Back Hand Clasp

  1. Stand straight up with your head, chest, and shoulders upright and the back straight.
  2. Bring both hands behind your back and touch the palms together.
  3. Interlock the hands together.
  4. Bring both shoulders back, as if the shoulder blades are being squeezed together.
  5. While still squeezing the shoulder blades, shrug both shoulders directly upwards.
  6. Hold for 20 seconds, then slowly return to the original position at Step 3.
  7. Repeat 2 more times.

Note: Be sure to do both of these stretches slowly and carefully. Stretching the neck can be very beneficial for day to day comfort, however it can also be "tweaked" very easily thus possibly resulting in pain and limited range of motion.

Dynamic Stretches

Shoulder Circles

  1. Stand straight up with your head, chest, and shoulders upright and the back straight.
  2. Raise both arms directly to your sides, and extend them straight out so a 90 degree angle forms at the armpit.
  3. Move both hands in small circles (about 4 inches in diameter) as if you are drawing circles in mid air.
  4. Engage the full arm and shoulder without bending the wrist or elbow.
  5. Rotate forward 10 small circles, then backwards 10 small circles.
  6. Now, move both hands in large circles (about 12 inches in diameter) as if you are drawing circles in mid air.
  7. Engage the full arm and shoulder without bending the wrist or elbow.
  8. Rotate forward 10 large circles, then backwards 10 large circles.

Note: Do each shoulder circle slowly and be sure to keep both arms fully extended. This will help to loosen the entire shoulder as well as begin to warm up the arms.

Step 7: Arms

The last muscle group to be stretch is the arms, which includes the bicep (front, or top, of the arm which is used for contracting the arm or pulling) and the tricep (back, or bottom, of the arm which is used for extending the arm or pushing). Arm muscles are used for everything from lifting and carrying to catching and throwing.

Static Stretches

Behind the Back Bicep

  1. Stand straight up with your head, chest, and shoulders upright and the back straight.
  2. Lift both arms out to the side, stopping just below shoulder height.
  3. Make sure that both arms are at the same height.
  4. Push both hands about 4-6 inches behind the back, and have both palms facing forward, as shown above.
  5. Slowly rotate the wrists, arms, and palms downward and backward until the palms face backwards.
  6. Hold for 30 seconds, then return to the resting position at Step 1.
  7. Repeat 1 time.

Note: The stretch should be felt all the way through the forearms, and up through the biceps. If you cannot feel it, slowly move the wrist backwards another 2-4 inches and try to rotate the wrists even more. Be sure to do all of this slowly to avoid over-rotating or strain.

Tricep Back Grab

  1. Stand straight up with your head, chest, and shoulders upright and the back straight.
  2. Raise your right arm forward, straight up to the ear, with the arm extended towards the sky.
  3. Bend the arm at the elbow, with your right hand going behind the head and facing palm down on the back so the elbow forms a triangle.
  4. Bring the left hand up and over the head and lightly grab the right elbow.
  5. Pull the elbow slightly to the left, helping to exaggerate the stretch through the right tricep.
  6. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch arms.

Note: The first few times while doing this stretch you may not be able to grab your back. In this case, lightly place your hand on the back of the head or neck, and use the opposite hand to further push the elbow down, thus bringing the hand lower.

<p>Thanks for sharing this!</p>

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