Stretching for flexibility may be accomplished through fitness activities such as calisthenics, dance, yoga or Pilates. An effective stretching method involves many of the core muscles such as the calves, hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, biceps, triceps, back, shoulders and neck. When working to increase flexibility and range of motion, the warmer the muscles, the greater and deeper the stretch.
An important consideration when stretching is breathing deeply to oxygenate the muscles. Bouncing while stretching has been known to lead to muscle injury and should be avoided. Holding a stretch for longer than 20 or 30 seconds will help to lengthen muscle tissues. A greater range of movement will be experienced if stretches are repeated daily. Stretching after high levels of physical activity, when the muscles are warm, will yield greater results.
Stretching exercises are a common component of dance classes. In a jazz class, for example, a teacher leads students in a warm-up that allows a rise in body temperature ideal for stretching. Stretching when muscles are cold might lead to injury. Toe touches while standing and sitting are examples of flexibility exercises commonly performed in a dance class. These exercises stretch the calves and hamstrings.
A regular yoga practice involves extensive stretching for flexibility. A common yoga stretching exercise is the downward facing dog. In this movement, the muscles of the hamstrings and calves are lengthened. The back is also elongated and the neck is relaxed, relieving tension. Many yoga poses and postures integrate exercises that both stretch and strengthen the body.
In Pilates, sitting on the floor with the legs tucked under the buttocks and stretching the arm overhead and to one side is one form of stretching for flexibility. This exercise lengthens the muscles on the side of the torso. As the stretch is deepened, the abdominal muscles also feel this lengthening.
Many aerobics classes integrate stretching for flexibility. Lying on the floor on the back and extending one leg off the floor, while grabbing onto it, and pulling it toward the torso will stretch the hamstrings. Extending that same leg straight out to the side, while holding on to the ankle, will stretch the inner thigh muscles.
Stretching for flexibility does not have to be limited to an organized activity. Runners, walkers, cyclists and anyone involved in a regular fitness activity will benefit from a greater range of motion. Regular stretching is important for everyone. It increases circulation, reduces stress, improves balance and decreases the risks of injury.