There is a misconception that stretching is only helpful for athletes or gymnasts who have a strict fitness plan. Anyone who wants to enjoy their body movements freely needs to think about flexibility. It’s like a domino effect—stretching regularly can help to achieve optimum mobility and independence, which visibly impacts your flexibility. When you combine these two, you achieve better balance. It’s as simple as that.
Let’s look at it from another angle. If you want to walk up the stairs without any discomfort, then the balance is key. To protect your body’s mobility, simple stretches regularly can improve your stability immensely. In this article, we will be discussing how stretches can define your flexibility and balance.
What Is Balance Stretching?
Stretches that help us improve balance are called balance stretching. For a detailed understanding, we have put together this article which explains what is meant by balance stretching.
The most basic step to prepare your body before a workout is stretching. It is often underrated, but getting your body ready for rigorous muscle movements and cardio is equally important for a complete fitness routine. Hence, stretching is essential. Allocating 5-10 minutes into your workout schedule for stretching exercises will help you achieve better flexibility, reduce stiffness, and ultimately give your better results.
Having tightness in your muscles can lead to undue strain on the surrounding joints while doing basic movements like walking, climbing, bending over, etc. With age, our muscles tend to lose their elasticity and eventually start to contract. We must actively protect the length of our muscles through regular maintenance. To enjoy our bodies’ ability to move around with ease requires a regular practice of balance stretching.
Balance and Coordination
Balance means stability. Even to squat down to reach the TV remote under the couch, you require balance. If you face balance issues, you are likely to meet with falls and slips, which can lead to injuries. By controlling our body movements with balance, we are protecting it from sudden falls.
Balance exercises are great for improving equilibrium, enhancing reflexes for situations when you can quickly recover from falling over. Moreover, balance is a requirement for various fitness activities and sports.
To improve balance, you have to think about your body’s core strength. Improved core strength represents a good foundation of control and support. Core strength can be achieved with exercises like Pilates and tai chi, but yoga should be at the top of your list if you want enhanced core strength and balance.
Relatively older people are usually at risk of falling, slipping, and causing injuries from lack of balance. Hence, older people must practice balance training regularly for better muscle and joint mobility.
We suggest practicing three to four days weekly to be able to move around without pain. Some examples of balance exercises for older people include sideways walking, backward walking, toe walking, heel walking, and standing from a sitting position.
Flexibility is directly related to stretching. The more you stretch, the better your flexibility. Having said that, some people are more flexible than others, so it’s best not to compare. Rather focus on your ability to achieve optimum mobility. Flexibility exercises are known to improve overall mobility, independence, reduce joints and muscle tightness, and eliminate possible risks of injury.
We highly recommend you incorporate flexibility to exercise at least three to four times weekly into your fitness program. You will come across posters at almost every gym class with visual images of stretches for all your muscle groups. If you have an instructor, they will also keep reminding you of the importance of stretching before getting into any high impact exercise.
Warming up with stretches can improve your muscle flexibility exceptionally. This brings us to our next section—the importance of safe and effective stretches for balance and flexibility.
The Relationship Between Yoga and Stretching
Most of us often assume that yoga and stretching are indistinguishable. Stretching and yoga poses cross each other’s paths due to their similarities in movements. Some people say yoga is a form of stretching, which is relatable. But in all honesty – they are alike visually with separate purposes fitness-wise. Let’s look at the rest of the article that will help you identify the differences and similarities between the two.
Let’s begin with the similarities between the two. Both focus on muscle tightness and flexibility. They both activate blood flow, engaging the entire body. Some of the stretching exercises and yoga poses might also have the same purpose. This brings to the end similarities between yoga and stretching.
Let’s examine the differences between the two now. Yoga poses vs stretching exercises will help you determine the point of differences easily.
Stretching means activating your muscles and tissues by holding a position. Your goal should be to lengthen your muscle in the desired area. You are expected to apply light pressure on your muscles before it starts to feel uncomfortable. It helps to reduce the tightness and tension in your muscles. Often stretching is only a part of a workout routine, where you stretch to warm up before or finish your routine with a stretching session.
Yoga is a full-fledged work workout with a combination of many asanas. Some of these poses look very similar to stretching exercises – but only a few. Moreover, there are many types of yoga workouts like vinyasa, power yoga, ashtanga, yin yoga, hot yoga, etc. Each type of yoga has a certain goal with its shift of movements. Many times, you will notice that yoga demands holding poses in some routines. Then there is vinyasa which requires you to move from one pose to another rapidly. In other words, yoga can be as relaxing as you want it to be, but it also can get your heart racing. It all depends on your personal fitness goals.
Your routine should be based on what you are trying to achieve from your practice. It can aim at purely stretching – due to recovering from an injury. It can also be based on enhancing your flexibility and body flow. Or the most common one – body balance and correct posture.
Safe and Effective Stretching
Stretching can go wrong if done incorrectly. It’s vital to do it properly to avoid injuries. It’s not only good for better flexibility, but it also stimulates your blood flow and relieves muscle tension, allowing your joints to maintain their wide range of motion. Therefore, you should start to consider a safe and effective stretching routine to combat this.
1. Fewer Injuries
If you can work on building strength and flexibility through regular stretching exercises, you will withstand more physical stress. In addition, you eliminate the likelihood of any muscle imbalances, which may be the cause of injuries.
2. Less Pain
You’ll notice that your body’s overall health has improved drastically. Stretching regularly opens up your muscles, making them looser and less stiff. You will experience fewer muscle pulls, cramps, aches and pains.
3. Improved Posture and Balance
Increased flexibility also means correcting posture. Preparing your body to flow and stretch improves body alignment. Moreover, you’ll notice your regular movements like sitting and standing have become easier.
4. A Positive State of Mind
Stretching stimulates your blood circulation and eases range of motion which has a very positive impact on your state of mind. It brings about feelings of calm and relaxation. Stretching in between your regular daily routine helps to unwind and make you feel better physically and mentally.
5. Greater Strength
Flexibility increases your core strength. Your muscles will store an adequate amount of tension to support your body movements. While you are working out, you will feel your body’s ability to support your exercises have increased, making you physically fit.
Types of Stretches to Improve Balance
As mentioned earlier, stretching is underrated. This is probably because it does not glorify its benefits as much as cardio, aerobics, HIIT, or any other form of exercise. Stretching can feel uncomfortable for many people. You are putting your body in a position that it is not used to; in fact, you are expecting your body to extend and lengthen.
Sometimes people just want to skip it because they think it is not result-oriented. In other words, stretching is not helping you to lose weight or increase your stamina, etc. The truth is, it does! We have prepared a list of five safe and effective stretches to loosen your muscles, making them less restricted.
Standing Calf Stretch
It is common to have tight calves from sitting or standing for long hours. It can become painful for you to put your foot flat on the floor when you are squatting or lunging, or even doing regular movements. Your body is likely to feel unstable due to the tightness. Stretching your calves will work your knees and improve your posture and alignment too.
Instructions: Stand straight. Move one leg and bring it behind you. Gradually bend your front leg by placing your hands over your knees for additional support. You need to ensure your back heel is touching the ground. Your torso needs to be squared to the front of your shoulders, over your hips. For a deeper stretch, focus on walking your leg farther back behind you. Do the same for the other leg. You can use a wall as a support.
The hamstring stretch has amazing benefits. It can help a lot to gain stability while walking or just standing. It boosts blood flow, making you more aware of your body movements and preventing falls and slips.
Instructions: You have to lie on your back for this one. Place one leg straight and extend on the ground. The other leg should be raised carefully toward the sky. Use both of your arms to grab behind the lifted leg and gently pull and stretch your hamstrings. If you want a deeper stretch, just flex your foot. Please note that if you feel any discomfort while doing this, you are allowed to bend the knee of the working leg. Keep your neck relaxed at all times. Repeat the same step for the other leg.
The quad stretch helps immensely with knees and lower back movements. It engages hip and leg muscles, enhancing flexibility. It is also great for preventing knee and lower back injuries. If you ever feel you need additional support, hold on to a wall or a similar stable object while you are at it!
Instructions: This stretching exercise requires you to stand with your legs apart (hip-distance). Gradually, bend one knee up and try to kick your bottom with that foot. Stretch the arm on the same side around your back to hold and grab your foot. Try to hold for a few seconds and breathe. Repeat for the other side.
Stiff hips can cause lower back pain and restrict your range of motion. It’s important to open up these muscles for a stable pelvis, which can support movements like walking, sitting, etc.
Instructions: You have to place your knees on the ground, keeping your hips forward and spine straight and stretched. Focus on your core muscles. Place your hands over the knee of your front leg, placing the knee over the ankle. Hold the stretch for a few seconds. Repeat for the other side.
This stretching exercise is a hip rotating exercise that activates the piriformis muscle. It is the deep internal hip rotator that is located on the exterior of the butt. If the hip rotation muscles are tight, it can cause sciatic nerve irritation, which can be painful.
Instructions: You have to sit on the floor for this one. Keep your legs extended. Take the right leg and gently cross it over the other leg. Keep your right foot flat, touching the floor. Take your right hand and place it behind your body. Take your left hand and put it on your right quad.
Keep pressing your right leg to the left side while you twist your body gently to the right. If the spinal rotation causes any discomfort, take it easy with the twisting and stretching. In this case, you can take your left hand to pull your right quad forward and to the left.
Tips to Stretch Properly
We have made a list of tips for you to follow while you are incorporating stretching exercises.
- Make sure your muscles are warm while you are stretching. It is a risk prevention tip. You can stretch after your workout, as your muscles will be relatively warmer from the workout. If you are stretching only, then try to walk it off first for a quick warm-up.
- Stretch to release tension, not cause pain. Please note that stretching should not feel painful at any time. Static stretching is the safe option. In other words, gently stretch your muscles to the end of their range of motion. Hold the stretches for 20 to 30 seconds. If that’s too much for you, you can tone it down to 10 seconds according to your comfort.
- Don’t bounce or jump while you are stretching. This can cause injuries and add to your muscle tightness. Follow smooth and flowy movements to release tension in tight areas.
- Refrain from holding your breath while stretching. Take deep breaths, but don’t hold it. Holding your breath can stop oxygen from reaching your muscles. Inhale consciously before starting the stretch and exhale while you are at it.
- Stretch regularly. If you want to move around with ease, you should remember to stretch regularly. The trick is to incorporate it into your daily routine.
Improving your balance with stretching exercises can be challenging at first, but rewarding in the long run. You also need to consider that your balance will not be the same every day; it will vary. Observe your body movements and stretch accordingly.
Try to notice the changes in your motion, if a certain part of your body feels tight or unstable. Enjoy the process of opening up your muscles with the help of regular stretching. You don’t have to stick to our list; you can get creative by incorporating other stretching exercises into your daily life. After a refreshing Yoga session, try to always finish it in the corpse pose, click here to learn more about it.