Friday, May 25, 2012

Fit Fridays- My Five Favorite Upper Body Stretches

My first post on stretching focused on the lower body, so I thought I would follow up with my five favorite upper body stretches as it's important to keep the upper body flexible too. You should try to incorporate stretching into your weekly workout routine as stretching can increase your flexibility, resulting in improved performance and decreased risk of injury. While there are different opinions as to whether you should stretch before or after exercise, most experts recommend stretching after exercise or after a short warm-up period.

The five stretches below are great for swimmers, cyclists, runners or just about any sport to increase your flexibility. Of course, there are many more stretches you can do but these are just some of my favorites. If any of the stretches below do not feel comfortable or are painful, please refrain from doing them.

Before you start, here are some general guidelines for safe stretching:
  • Never stretch cold muscles; warm up for at least 5-10 minutes or wait until after your workout to begin your stretching routine.
  • Do not bounce while stretching as you can injure yourself by creating small tears in the muscle. Instead, move slowly into a stretch, hold the stretch for approximately 30 seconds, and then switch sides and repeat.
  • Do not over-stretch. You want to feel a slight pull/tightness in the muscle when stretching but never pain. As the muscle relaxes and you no longer feel a tightness, you can stretch a bit further until you feel that same tightness again. 1.

1. Posterior Shoulder Stretch: The posterior shoulder stretch will help to release your rotator cuff muscles on the back of your shoulders.
    1. Cross one arm across your body and hold it with your opposite arm either above or below the elbow.
    2. Using your opposite arm, slowly pull the arm that is across your body towards you until you feel a slight stretch.
    3. Maintain good posture by keeping your back straight.
    4. Hold for approximately 30 seconds then repeat on the other side.

2. Triceps Stretch: The triceps muscle is located on the back of your arm and serves to extend or straighten your elbow.
    1. Raise one arm up and then bend it, placing your fingers toward the middle of your upper back.
    2. With the opposite hand, grab your elbow and slowly pull towards the side of your opposite hand until you feel a slight stretch.
    3. Maintain good posture by keeping your back straight.
    4. Hold for approximately 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

3. Side Stretch: There are three main muscles on your side, the internal and external obliques and the quadratus lumborum which help to stabilize the core.
    1. Lift both arms above your head.
    2. Take your right hand and grasp your left arm at the wrist with your palms facing up.
    3. Bend slowly to the right side until you feel a stretch.
    4. Hold for approximately 15-30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

4. Chest Stretch: Your chest consists of your pectoralis major and minor muscles which are the main muscles responsible for shoulder movements.
    1. Intertwine your fingers behind your back with your arms straight.
    2. Slowly lift your arms up behind you until you feel a slight stretch.
    3. Maintain good posture by keeping your neck and back straight.
    4. Hold for approximately 30 seconds.

5. Streamline Stretch: The streamline stretch will help to loosen up your latissimus dorsi muscles, the strongest muscle on your back that is utilized while swimming.
    1. Raise both arms above your head and place your hands one on top of the other like a streamline position in the water.
    2. Stretch up as high as you can.
    3. Hold for approximately 30 seconds and repeat if you like.

Happy stretching!

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