On the home stretch - Pat Henry on how to avoid injury
Don't risk injury by not stretching properly, says our fitness expert. Here he lists some gentle stretches to get you fitness ready
As we age the muscles can become very tight - possibly from inactivity or overstretching yourself while playing your favourite sports, such as golf or even walking briskly can cause the muscles to lose their flexibility.
The secret to avoiding this tightness is gentle stretching of all the major muscle groups every day for a maximum of just 15 seconds. For each group, repeat each stretch three times, gradually extending the range of motion as you become more flexible.
Remember, more injuries are caused by stretching when cold, especially in the morning, so do a five-minute warm-up - either on a bike or jogging on the spot and then stretch. Think of your muscles and tendons as an elastic band, stretch them gently, no sudden or fast movements.
Stretching can be very useful for loosening the back, the hips, the legs and the calves, but at all times ease yourself into position. Gently push a little further each time until you reach your maximum position.
In the early morning your body will be more stiff and less flexible, especially if it is cold. More caution is needed if you want to avoid injury which could put you out of action for weeks.
Many sports people are stuck in the old way of stretching before exercise, but learn from the top sports physios, which I've had the privilege of working with, on a stretch and injury course in Austria.
Their conclusion was stretching after exercise. Yoga and Pilates are completely different, so don't confuse these with a stretch programme. Get a good coach for an individual stretch programme. The following are very simple stretches that you can do without fear of injury:
1. Hamstring and lower back: Keeping the legs wide and straight, bend forward from the hip and try place the palms on the hands flat on the floor.
2. Groin or hip abductors: Sitting with the soles of your feet together, gently push both knees towards the floor until you feel a stretch on the inner thigh.
3. Hip abductor and lower back: Lying flat on the floor, stretch your leg over the midline of the body, allowing the hip to come up off the floor but keeping the shoulders down. Stretch your arm in the opposite direction and look out over that arm.
4. Glute stretch: Cross your ankle over the other knee, reach under and grab the thigh of the non-stretching leg. Lean your head gently up towards the knee of the leg being stretched.
5. Hamstring stretch: Lying on your back, stretch one leg straight up towards the roof keeping it completely straight. You can use a towel or Thera-Band over the ball of your foot to leaver it back towards your body, helping to keep the toes pulled down towards your face.
6. Cobra stretch for abdominal and lower back: Lying on your stomach place the hands under the shoulders. Push up keeping the hips on the floor until you can feel the stretch on the stomach, keeping your gaze straight up over your head.
7. Lower back and hamstring: Standing with the feet together and keeping the knees completely straight all the way through the stretch. Inhale and push the hands over head, slowly bring the hands down the body as far as you can letting the head rest down until you can feel the stretch down the back of your legs.
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