If you're like most active people, you set aside time for aerobic exercise to improve your heart health. You may even do a couple of strength training workouts a week to maintain muscle mass. But do you work on the forgotten fitness component -- flexibility.
According to the American Council on Exercise, flexibility is a crucial part of overall health. Regular stretching helps improve posture, relieves muscle tension and reduces risk of injury. If you find yourself struggling to touch your toes, then chances are your flexibility needs a little work.
It's important to understand that sometimes poor flexibility is the manifestation of muscle weakness. Not being able to touch your toes could be a sign of poor hamstring strength and a need to add some loaded mobility exercises to your routine. One exercise to try is the Romanian Deadlift. This exercise forces the hamstrings to work eccentrically, meaning they lengthen to lift the weight. The result is that your hamstrings contract longer and therefore strengthen.
1. Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart. Hold a pair of dumbbells at your sides.
2. Keeping your your hips back, bend your knees slightly and keep your back flat as you lower the weights to the ground.
3. Once your upper body is parallel to the ground, reverse the movement and return to standing.
Another muscle group that is often in need of help is the hip flexors. These are the muscles at the front of your hips that typically shorten after long bouts of sitting. When they shorten, they pull on your pelvis, causing it to tilt forward and put tension on the hamstrings. A double whammy.
If possible, stand up and move around frequently throughout the day to help alleviate some of the build-up tension. Even better, stretch your hip flexors daily with this stretch.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
1. Kneel on the ground with your right leg out in front and bent at 90 degrees. Balance the left knee on the ground for support.
2. Tuck in your hips slightly and lean into your right knee. You should feel the stretch along the front of your left hip. Hold for 30 seconds.
3. Repeat with the left leg forward.
A third area that often needs attention is the lower back. If you feel a pinch in your lower back or pain that shoots down your leg, you may have tension in your nervous system. Normally, our nerves move independently around the muscles that surround them. But poor nerve mobility can cause tension in this movement. Try this exercise to help alleviate this tension.
Active Hamstring Stretch
1. Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms at your side's.
2. Raise your right leg up and grab the back of your thigh with your hands.
3. Pull your leg toward you as you feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Hold for 30 seconds.
4. Lower your leg to the ground, then repeat on the other side.
An important tactic to reducing muscle tension is maintaining good posture. Sitting posture is very important and a key element, since the sciatic nerve comes from the spine. While sitting, have your lower back supported with a pillow.