Simple stretches should be a regular part of kids’ physical activity routine. Before or after a kids mud run or a kids obstacle race, before bed, or anytime your child’s muscles feel tense or tight, encourage her to try some easy stretches. She should stretch when her muscles are warmed up. So if she hasn’t just been exercising, she needs to do a short warm-up, such as dancing or walking or jogging in place.
The following stretches for kids do not have to be done in this order. But generally, it is a good idea to stretch the spine first and then move from the upper to the lower body. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds at the point of tension or tightness—not pain—and repeat a few times (switching legs and arms as needed). Do not bounce in the stretch, and don’t forget to breathe.
If your child has an injury or is training for a specific sport, consult a physical therapist or athletic trainer to determine the safest and most effective ways to stretch.
STRETCHES FOR KIDS MUD RUNS
This aptly named yoga pose (called balasana in Sanskrit) is a good way for kids to begin and/or end a stretching session. It’s very relaxing!
Kneel with toes touching and knees spread apart. (Some people prefer to keep knees together. Try both ways to see which is more comfortable.) Slowly bend over and touch the forehead to the ground. Arms can be at the sides, palms facing up, or extended in front of the head with palms on the floor. Inhale and exhale slowly and deeply; hold for 3 to 5 breaths.
This yoga-influenced stretch is good for the spine and also strengthens the abdominal muscles. Start on all fours with the spine and neck in a neutral position. The back should be flat like a tabletop. Eyes should look straight down to the ground. Inhale, drop the belly down and slowly lift the neck and head up. This is the cow half of the pose—picture a cow’s swayed back with bony hips.
Next, on an exhale, lift the belly and spine so the back is arched like a cat’s. Eyes look toward the bellybutton.
Alternate 5 to 10 cat-cow stretches, then return to the neutral hands-and-knees position.
OVERHEAD ARM STRETCH
This simple, yet effective stretch works the upper body, shoulders, and arms. Stand up straight with feet together. With back straight, reach arms straight up and overhead, without locking elbows.
Hands can be touching or apart. You can also do a very gentle backbend here. If you choose to bend backward, keep chin and neck lifted.
This exercise works the arm and shoulder muscles. Stand with arms outstretched and thumbs pointing down. Gently push arms back as if squeezing a ball between the shoulder blades.
Alternatively, slowly rotate the arms so that thumbs are pointing up. Hold; then rotate back to the first position. Hold again, gently squeezing arms back. Repeat a few times, always moving slowly.
Reach the right arm straight out in front of you. Bend the left arm and put the left wrist on the back of the right arm, just above the elbow. Your left palm will be facing to the side. Use the left arm to gently press the right arm across your body until you feel a good stretch. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Switch arms and repeat.
KIDS OBSTACLE RACE STRETCHES
This stretch works the muscle on the back of the upper arm. Raise the right arm up overhead, palm facing in towards your head. Then bend the elbow so your fingers touch, or reach toward, the middle of your upper back. Grab the right elbow with the left hand and gently pull back until you feel the stretch in the right tricep. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Then switch arms and repeat.
This may seem like a leg stretch, but it actually works the muscles in the groin. Start by kneeling on a mat or soft surface. Keeping your back straight, place your left foot on the ground and gently press forward until the knee is bent at a 90-degree angle (knee directly over the ankle). This stretches the left hip and groin.
Place hands or elbows on the left knee to stabilize and hold for 10 to 30 seconds, without bouncing. Switch legs and repeat.
Kids are usually quite adept at the butterfly stretch, which works the inner thighs and echoes the criss-cross pose they may sit in anytime they’re on the floor. This is also sometimes known as the lotus position—although a true lotus pose requires the feet and ankles to rest on the thighs, which is very challenging.
In a seated position, place the soles of the feet together and hold them with the hands. The legs are now forming the butterfly “wings.” Elbows can be between the legs or resting on the knees. Gently press the knees down to increase the stretch. To add a spine stretch, bend forward from the upper back and reach forehead toward feet.
Sit on the ground or a mat with legs apart. The width of the straddle is up to you—whatever feels comfortable and a little challenging, without causing any pain.
Once seated, bend slowly over the right leg, then to the center, then over the left leg. Hold each position for at least 10 to 30 seconds, without bouncing. These stretches work the lower back, inner thighs, and hamstrings (the large muscles on the back of the thighs).
This move stretches the large muscles on the front of the thighs that we use for running. Stand facing the back of a chair (a wall or a tree also works; you just need support for balance). With the left arm on the chair, bend the right leg and grab it with the right hand. Gently press the foot toward the body until you feel the stretch in the front of the thigh. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, and then switch legs.
You can also do this stretch with your opposite arm holding the foot. It is slightly more challenging to balance this way, but having the chair helps.
Place your forearms on a wall. Stand with one leg near the wall. Extend the other leg back, keeping the heel on the ground, until you feel the stretch in the calf muscle (back of the lower leg). Hold for 10 to 30 seconds without bouncing.
Switch sides and repeat on the other leg. This stretch feels good after running or walking.
This stretch works the inner thighs, also called the adductors and the hips. Stand up straight with legs apart, wider than hip distance. Bend one leg to a 90-degree angle and keep the other leg stretched out straight, with toes and heels pointing out at about a 45-degree angle. Feel the stretch in the inner thigh and hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Keep back straight.
Switch sides and repeat.
CROSSOVER TOE TOUCH
Stretch the back and the hamstrings with a toe touch. Stand with arms hanging loosely at sides and feet together, with knees very slightly bent. Slowly roll down from the back and reach toward the toes with your hands. Actually touching them is optional! Hold the stretch without bouncing.
For a variation, cross the legs while standing. You can also work on toe touches in a seated position. Always keep a slight bend in the knees. Remember, not everyone can touch their toes. Just reach as far as you can without pain. A little discomfort or tension is okay.
In a seated position, extend the left leg straight forward, toes pointing up. Bend the right leg and place the sole of the right foot along the knee or inner thigh of the left leg. Reach forward toward the toes of the left foot until you feel the hamstring stretch (your hamstring muscle is on the back of your thigh). Hold for 10 to 30 seconds without bouncing.
Switch legs and repeat. This stretch is sometimes called a hurdler’s stretch since it mimics the position of a runner’s legs as she jumps over a hurdle.
So be sure to have your kids stretch before any physical activity, especially if it is a kids mud run NJ or a family obstacle course race.