Is there a standard (as much as can be standard) stretch routine that if used regularly over a period of time will increase/maintain flexibility and help my overall fitness level?
I have a set of stretches I've been doing since playing basketball in high school, and I guess I'm wanting either to validate the routine or to find a standard routine that encompasses all the muscles you want to stretch on a daily basis.
I'm thinking a routine from a branch of the military or something like that. Does this exist, or is it another one of those areas that is too personalized to have a general rule?
I would say that a stretching routine is something that should be personalized to be the most effective. To help you set up your own routine here are some suggestions.
Assessment - First do an assessment to see if you have any areas or muscles with tightness or limitations of movement. (Check neck, back and trunk range in all directions, shoulder motion, wrist/hand flexibility, hip and thigh range, and heel cords.) If your present program of stretches addresses all your muscle groups, you should be fairly flexible. If you find tight areas, you can add specific exercise to take care of those oversights. I think that the spine is often overlooked.
Goal Specific - Next, look at positions that you spend a lot of time in such as prolonged sitting that would tighten hamstrings, hip flexors, neck and abs or pecs if you slump. Consider the needs of any sports or activities you are involved in such as running, weight lifting, tennis etc. to assure that you have the range of motion needed.
Regularity - To be effective your stretching routine needs to be done consistently. The more muscles that you can stretch with each exercise, the more manageable your time frame will be, giving you better overall results. For example, child’s pose in yoga gives a good overall stretch to your glutes, spine and lats, so it is a multi-muscle stretch. Then for problem areas you can do some specific, dedicated stretches. For example, if you work at a computer you would add specific forearm/wrist/hand stretches.
Resources and References - Joseph Weisberg has developed a quick 3 Minute routine that gives you a good overall stretch of the muscles of your spine, abs, back muscles and lats, shoulders, hips, adductors and hamstrings with six, 30 second stretches.
Bob Anderson’s book, Stretching is a standard reference. It includes stretches for muscle groups and sport specific stretching routines.
Ming Chew’s, The Permanent Pain Cure has stretching exercises that not only address the muscles, but take fascia into consideration. He is a physical therapist, bodybuilder and martial artist so his technique has been developed with a broad basis of scientific information, personal experience and knowledge gained from working with his clients. The book also addresses the importance of hydration to improve your flexibility.
Jay Blahnik’s, Full - Body Flexibility gives a 3 part system, with general stretching as well as fitness and sport routines. It includes dynamic stretching and multi-regional or compound muscle stretching. His book also includes 23 stretching routines.
Yoga exercises generally give you a good overall flexibility program and you will find basic yoga moves incorporated into different stretching routines.
When to Stretch - Generally you will achieve more motion when the tissue is warmed up. Immediately before sports or performance activities is NOT the best time to stretch, especially if you are doing static or passive stretching. If you are doing an activity that requires full range of motion, such as some martial arts, you may want to do some dynamic stretching after warming up to allow you the range that will be needed. However, to work towards increased flexibility it is best to do so at times other than before just before the activity. This is because static stretching prior to activity may cause reduced performance and/or injury.
Avoid Over Stretching - You can overdo stretching just like any other activity.
Hope that helps. (If you are interested in getting any of these books through Amazon, I would appreciate it if you would use the link on our site.)