Body stretches help shape and tone the figure as well as keep muscles flexible to prevent exercise injuries. A body stretch routine done before and after workouts can be part of effective warm-up and cool down exercises. Stretching should always feel pleasant; if any pain results, it may be a sign of an injury and should be treated. The three main types of stretches are those for the upper, lower and full body.
Full-body stretches can be felt in all the main muscle groups. A simple, yet effective sitting body stretch can be done on the floor with the legs out in front. One knee is bent so that the foot touches the knee of the straight leg. Both hands are brought forward to touch the toes of the straight leg; this movement creates a full-body stretch when the position is held for a few seconds. The same movements should be repeated on the other leg.
Lower-body stretching works mainly the leg muscles. Standing and holding onto a counter top or ballet style bar with both hands allows the legs to be stretched out one at a time behind the body or outward from the sides. The lower-body stretches should be slow to allow each leg's stretch to be felt from the feet to the hips. When the leg stretches are done behind the body, care should be taken not to lift the legs too high, as this may strain the lower back muscles.
Upper-body stretches are felt mostly in the arms and shoulders. A common upper-body stretch that may be done before or after an exercise routine is to stand with the feet comfortably apart. One hand pulls the upper part of the other arm gently toward the middle of the body. The action should be held for a few seconds before being repeated with the other hand and arm.
Unlike arm and leg lifts that are done quite quickly and in sets of 10 repetitions or more on each side, body stretches should be performed slowly to allow the full effect of each stretch. When first beginning any type of body stretches, the repetitions are best left to five or less. Otherwise, muscle pain rather than a pleasant stretch may be the result.
Besides warming up and cooling down in exercise routines, body stretches are also beneficial in the office. Long periods of keyboarding can place strain on the shoulders and arms. Sitting for hours also reduces circulation in the legs. Creating a quick stretch routine to do at coffee breaks can help ease workplace stress on the body.