The importance of stretching as part of your fitness routine should not be underestimated - stretching keeps the muscle flexible and strong, allowing a wide range of motion in the joints. To achieve this, active individuals rely on several forms of stretching. This article will focus on a method called active stretching, its benefits, and a few easy examples anyone can try.
What is active stretching?
To understand what active stretching is, and how it differs from passive stretching, it’s important to differentiate the agonist and antagonist muscles. These two terms describe the muscles that provide force when a motion is conducted, whether it’s simply walking or a more rigorous physical activity like squats for example. The agonist is a muscle that contracts to cause the movement. The antagonist is an opposing muscle that relaxes relatively to stretch. Depending on the movement, certain muscles will play the role of agonists while the others will function as antagonists.
Related: 14 Explained Stretches for Pain Relief
Active stretching can be defined as using agonist muscles to relax and stretch the opposing muscles (antagonist muscles) without the use of any external aids. The practice is also referred to as static active stretching because the end position of the stretch is held for a set amount of time. Rather than using a prop, such as a strap or a band, you’re simply holding the stretch using other muscles. For example, when you lay on your back and lift a straight leg to the ceiling until you feel your hamstring stretch is a form of active stretching as the position requires active work from your hip flexors and core to keep your leg in the air, while your hamstrings are statically stretching.
Each position is usually held for 10-15 seconds. Any longer than that tends to be quite difficult. Most yoga routines are filled with great active stretches, or alternatively, you could perform them after exercise, to promote recovery or just on their own. Seeing as they don’t require any special equipment, active stretches can be done virtually anywhere. Here are a few examples to get you started:
1. Active hamstring stretch
Image Source: YouTube
- Lie on your back with both legs straight on the floor. It may be helpful to place a pillow under your head.
- Lift one leg up to the ceiling, keeping your leg straight, until you feel a hamstring stretch. Hold for 10–15 seconds.
- You grasp the back of your thigh with both hands for support in keeping the leg pointing straight up
- If you notice your tailbone starting to tuck, lower the lifted leg slightly, or bend your bottom leg and place the foot on the floor for support.
2. Active triceps stretch
- Stand with your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart. This stretch can also be done sitting down if you are not steady on your feet.
- Reach one straight arm up to the ceiling, then bend your elbow, so that your hand is moving down behind your neck, reaching between your shoulder blades.
- Aim to keep your elbow pointing to the ceiling, and try to reach further down your back with your hand, for 10-15 seconds, then switch elbows.
3. Active chest stretch
Image Source: YouTube
- Stand with your back straight and your feet shoulder-width apart. Reach both arms out to the side at 90 degrees, with straight elbows.
- If you wish to increase the stretch, turn your palms forward or towards the ceiling.
- Open your arms as wide as possible, so they extend behind the body. Stop when you feel a stretch across the chest and front of your arms.
- Hold for 10–15 seconds, aiming to keep your rib cage from flaring and your back from arching.
4. Active quad stretch
- Stand tall with your feet hip-distance apart, and a neutral pelvis. You may want to place one hand on a wall or chair for balance.
- Bend one knee, lifting your foot behind you, and pull it toward your backside.
- Keep the knee pointed down to the ground and aligned with your supporting knee. If you wish to decrease the stretch, bring the knee forward.
- Hold for 10-15 seconds and switch legs.
5. Active low lunge
Image Source: YouTube
- Start by standing up tall
- Step forward with one foot until your leg reaches a 90-degree angle.
- Lunge forward with your leg until your opposite thigh is parallel to the floor, and place your hands on the floor on each side of your foot.
- Raise your left arm straight up towards the ceiling as you rotate the shoulder back.
- Lower hand to starting position, and switch sides. Hold each hand up for 10-15 seconds.
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