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22 February 2007

Stretch yourself to the limit

Stretching before exercise is second nature to many guys, even though some of us regard it as a chore to be rushed through. But stretching has some surprising benefits.

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Stretching before exercise is second nature to many guys, even though some of us regard it as a chore to be rushed through. But stretching has some surprising benefits. Here are some moves to give your leg muscles the warm-up they need.

If you’re going for a run on a chilly autumn morning or paddling out into Outer Kom’s icy Atlantic breakers you’ll know that stretching prepares your muscles for exertion. But research has also shown that it makes you physically stronger. Research conducted at the Brigham Young University in Hawaii found that performing a 40-minute stretch routine three times a week (seems like forever, but if you’re doing it at the beach it might fly by) increased leg strength by more than 15 percent over three months.

This was achieved without any weight training. Combining the stretching with a resistance training routine yields improved muscle strength and flexibility.

Remember that when you stretch, the idea is to lean gently into the movement, rather than bouncing, which risks muscle strain. Just because your leg muscles are strong doesn’t mean you should abuse them.

If you’re over 30, it’s time to start stretching each day even when you’re not working out, especially if you job involves lots of sitting at a desk or driving. Here’s the stretching routine:

  • Start with a classic footballers’ stretch: Stand erect, with your ankles crossed, so you’re nearly on tip-toe. It’s not an overly dignified or comfortable stance, but it’s temporary. Now put your hands behind your back and lower them, bending at the waist and knee until your hands reach your ankles. Return to the erect position. Try for a smooth movement and try not to wobble around. It looks silly.
  • Find a staircase or a step, with something to hold on to. Stand on the edge, with the ball of your foot on the step, then lower your right heel so that you feel your calf muscle stretch. Hold for 20, raise it, change sides and repeat.
  • Stand against a wall or a pole and hold on with your left hand. Lift your left leg behind you and grab it with your right hand. Try to pull it up into your butt. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, change sides and repeat.
  • Find a ledge, window sill or table about waist high and rest one foot on it while standing erect and keeping both legs straight. Grab the elevated ankle with both hands and lean forward towards your foot. You’ll feel the strain in your quadriceps muscles. Hold for 20, changes sides and repeat.
  • Sit flat on the floor, with your legs out at around 45 degrees. Keep your back straight, lean forward and grab your feet. If you’re supple you’ll be able to hold your toes. If not, grab your ankles or shins. Hold for 20.
 
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