When it comes to exercise modalities, stretching often gets the short shrift. People tend to associate more visible results from calorie-blasting HIIT or tough sessions pumping iron. Plus, as schedules are squeezed, it seems easier to blow off stretching than other workout components.
And yet, flexibility is critically important, as it impacts your range of motion and overall mobility. Plus, flexibility tends to diminish as we age unless we actively work to preserve it. Stretching helps improve elasticity in the muscles, tendons and ligaments so that it’s easier to move – whether you’re climbing stairs or playing pickleball. And regular stretching can minimize tight or sore muscles and reduce the incidence of injuries. Plus, although it may be a “hurts-so-good” experience, ultimately, stretching should make you feel better.
Ideally, stretch briefly after every exercise session, or at least a few times per week. Hit the major muscle groups and hold for 15-60 seconds for best results. If you really don’t have time at the gym, then do it at home while watching TV or talking on the phone.
While stretching doesn’t require any special equipment, tools are available today specifically to enhance flexibility. If you’re seeking a way to boost motivation or add interest, here are some of the best products to help you stretch.
Best Products for Stretching
- Straps – Various manufacturers offer woven or elastic straps between 4-6 feet long, or you can also use a yoga strap. Some have integrated loops in which you can securely hold positions to stretch major muscle groups. These are fairly inexpensive, and can help you accomplish stretches that might be tough to hold on your own. However, ensure that they come with an instruction book or chart, as they aren’t intuitive for most people.
- Foam rollers – Technically, these are used for myofascial release, which isn’t exactly stretching, but can complement stretching by releasing tension and promoting range of motion. And, foam rollers can be used as an accessory for some stretches. Today, you can choose from various styles, including smooth, nubby, short, longer, full cylinders and half-cylinders. They can hit most major muscle groups, and are commonly used for the hamstrings, glutes, hips, low back and chest. Foam rollers are inexpensive, easy to find, portable and ideal for home use. Consult a manual or online resources to learn about these versatile tools to enhance your flexibility routine.
- Specialty accessories – Some tools are designed to focus exclusively on one, or a few body part/s, like the Chi Soft Multi-Level Back Stretching Device, ProStretch Ankle Stretch System and the IdealStretch, which can be used to stretch the hamstrings, hips, lower back, IT band and groin. Some of these can be pricier, and you must know how to use them properly for the best ROI.
- Stretch machines – This can be cages, benches or seats, all designed to facilitate multiple stretches. Some are for home use, and others are for health clubs, and they can be a great way to keep you interested in pursuing your flexibility. However, they range from hundreds to thousands of dollars, and you need sufficient space for them.
- Partner – OK, so this technically isn’t a “product,” but it’s one of the best ways to help you stretch. Having someone hold your leg in a hamstring stretch, or apply pressure in a figure-4 hip stretch can help you get deeper than you would on your own, and therefore enjoy better progress. You can also do proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching with a partner, which sounds complex but actually is another simple way to see progress. Find more information about PNF technique online.