Ok, let’s get down to business. We know from my previous lecture that flexibility supports overall health, prevents injury, and promotes longevity. we know we feel great when we have long muscles. But we still don’t take the time. Here are a few stretches for muscle groups that are (in my mind) the most commonly a source of problems. Hopefully you can find time throughout the day to squeeze in a stretch or two! Let me know what you think! If you like them, we’ll include more going forward!
When to stretch?
Don’t stretch cold muscles. for flexibility, it is best to get them warm first. That means (you guessed it) AFTER you workout…at least after a decent warmup. If nothing else, you can do a light jog to get the blood flowing.
Not everything we suggest here is for everyone. Please consult your doctor before starting any exercises, and listen to your body. If you feel sharp pain immediately discontinue. Stretches should be to ‘the edge of discomfort’ and will take time. Rushing through or forcing a stretch will have the opposite effect,and cause injury. Please soften your joints, never lock them, and look for the ‘stretch reflex’ a point at which you should back off a stretch…when your muscles begin to shake, engaging to protect themselves from damage. This sounds scary, but if you exercise common sense along with the muscles, you should be just fine!
public enemy #1: tight hamstrings.
Tight hamstrings are the source of back pain and fatigue, and can cause poor lifting technique by reducing your range of motion. One of my favorite stretches for lengthening hamstrings is gorilla pose.
- start with your feet together (or a few inches apart for added stability).
- Bend your knees REALLY BIG and bring your chest to your thighs. (and i mean totally heavy on your thighs!) hands come to the floor.
- Tuck your chin, eyes look to your shins, top of your head to the floor.
- Now begin to straighten your legs, drawing your tailbone to the ceiling BUT keep your chest totally sealed to your thighs. (this will force the stretch into the hamstrings group and away from the back)
- I have tucked my hands under my toes for a little extra ‘oomph’.
why not Flat Back?
This may look familiar, but it has some specifics that make it really great for tight hamstrings.
- Draw your body into a forward fold, bend your knees, and hang in the same way that you set up for gorilla.
- Place your hands on shins, lengthen arms, inhale breath into your spine…lengthen your head away from your hips. make sure you are looking at the floor.
- Draw your tailbone away from your feet, up towards the ceiling – feel the stretch!
- you can adapt this if you like – support your body on a table or counter while in a forward bend. the important part is to draw your tailbone up!
#2 on my posture hit parade: a good chest stretch.
you know how we all sit hunched over our steering wheels/computers/cell phones/bikes? well, our lovely chest muscles just get shorter and shorter…and without attention, we start to slouch. this can snowball into neck pain, headaches…well you get the idea. So let’s start with…Bridge Pose.
- Begin on your back, feet flat, knees in alignment. (please note that in the pic my feet should be closer!! whoopsie!)
- peel your spine off the floor, squeeze your butt. now, squeeze your butt MORE!!
- create an arc from your knees to your shoulders. (you may need to have a partner tell you if you are getting high enough in your hips)
- Walk your shoulders underneath your back, clasp your hands – palms together, and press through your arms all the way to your pinkies. now, really focus on releasing through your chest.
- OH! don’t let your hips drop!! squeeze the boo-tay!
Alternate chest stretch: on the stability ball.
- sit on the ball, feet hip distance for stability.
- walk your feet away from the ball, drawing it to your back.
- Allow your arms to open up to the side.
- gently release your neck, supporting your head with the ball.
- keep squeezing your butt to protect your back.
#3 The hot mess: Hips/IT band
In general, we all need to loosen our hips. (a totally predictable comment made by folks who peer longingly into Zumba classes: “I can’t move like that”.) truth is, it’s all about specificity: if you DO it, you get BETTER at it. If you’re still not quite ready to make the step into dance class, the following stretches will help you get more limber while you build your confidence!
IT band stretch (especially great for athletes!!)
* you’ll need a towel, strap, or dynaband for this exercise. don’t worry about getting too fancy: i am using a cut-up t-shirt.
- lie down on your back, legs extended flat on the floor.
- bend your knee, draw your right leg in, and hook your strap (or whatever) over your right foot. Flex your foot.
- Place the strap in your left hand, extend your right arm away from your body for balance
- lengthen your leg (leave a slight bend if needed) and gently draw your leg across your body. ZOWIE! do you feel tight from your knee to your hip? that, my friend, is your IT band. love it, be gentle, treat with care.
- When you are done, bend your knee, draw it to your chest, and gently release. Then repeat on the other side.
Awesome hip stretch for all levels!
good posture bad posture
- Feet on the ground, knees bent. Palms facing behind you, arms & neck long.
- Lift up your butt. pick up your left leg, cross ankle over your right knee, and FLEX YOUR FOOT. (safety first!) Now lower your butt to the ground. pull your shoulder blades together (sneaky bonus chest stretch!)
- Draw your chest towards your shin. Press your left knee away from you – you should feel this in your hip!
- if your posture is kinda cruddy, move your legs further from your butt. if you need a little more (and your posture is great) walk your foot in closer!
more hips + inner thighs: Hindi Squat
- Stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. (you may need to make adjustments as you work this pose.)
- Drop your butt down, and as you do. hands in prayer position, draw your elbows on the inside of your knees.
- use your shoulders to power through your arms and maintain an inner thigh stretch.
- It is important to work your hips down, shoulders back, spine tall, and knees toward pinky toes.
That’s all for now – please note that you should NEVER EVER do these stretches or any yoga with your bare skin on a dilapidated deck. I was alone, in a rush to get these pics done, and realized that my mats were in in the other car! I soldiered on, but spent about 30 minutes pulling rotten splinters from toes, hands, and shins. no fun. Also, not having a safe spot kept me from achieving great posture n many cases – so i really can’t overstate the importance of an awesome mat! Mine are from LuluLemon…and i love them!
What spots do you need help limbering up??