While we think that everyone is aware of the importance of warming up and cooling down pre and post workout it can often be rushed, not done properly or sometime omitted all together. A quick hamstring stretch and cross-the-body arm stretch doesn’t cut the mustard! And this is just the first instance in which stretching and flexibility gets overlooked.
More pressing is the lack of flexibility and stretch work actually incorporated into people’s exercise plans. So, whether it’s yoga or Pilates class once or twice a week, or a few carefully selected moves added to the end of each and every workout we promise you’ll feel the benefit!
Why do so may people believe that stretching is for gymnastics or yoga enthusiasts only – those looking to contort their bodies into weird shapes?
Stretching is overlooked for many reasons – but it’s important to think of it as an important addition, not an unnecessary extra.
For example, you’ve just done an arm session, feels good right? But that pumped feeling won’t last long, the blood and lactic acid will start to leave your arms and if you don’t stretch your arms will stay in a semi-contracted state. This in turn, very slightly, decreases the range of motion in your biceps and triceps. Now multiply this by 100 arm workouts and imagine how much range of motion you lose?
Once you were able to scratch your middle back; now you have to rub yourself against a corner of a wall! Sound familiar? This isn't because you've gained muscle, it's because you lost your flexibility!
Or, you’ve just started a weight loss plan; you are being really good, sticking to a healthy diet and incorporating exercise. Perhaps you’ve started running, doing classes, visiting the gym and maybe even seeing a PT and you’ve got loads of motivation (cos it’s new) so you’re exercising loads, with a rest day or two thrown in each week – no time to include a yoga class or similar as you don’t want to lose a cardio or weights sesh. But by neglecting stretching and flexibility work, thus repeatedly using a muscle to perform an activity without returning it to its pre-exercise length, it is possible to develop muscle imbalances and incorrect movement patterns. This in turn could lead to overuse injuries which could put a halt to your exercise altogether while you recover! So don’t neglect your stretching exercise!
So, you see, there is a simple message to this blog, we just want to remind you all, male or female that it is important to stretch and incorporate it as much as you can in your weekly routine.
If you can’t make it to yoga or pilates class once or twice a week then at the very least find some time to do these stretches in order to remain flexible and injury-free and to strengthen key muscles.
These stretches/poses work on those areas that get tight from life (and possibly from unbalance training, chest day anyone?!).
As this routine lasts just 5-10 minutes, use them to prepare for your workout, at the end as a cool down or as a separate routine.
Doing these daily can really help open up your hips, t-spine, lats and mind!
With all these moves try and practice deep belly/ diaphragmatic breathing, this will help create a sense of relaxation and create good core stability as well. If you can’t breathe during a position you don’t own it! Holding your breath = tension.
1. Downward facing dog
Yes, this is a classic yoga pose but it’s not only for hard-core yogis! To get the inverted V shape, hips are up in the air. You may have seen Yogis with their heels flat on the ground and legs straight. Don’t worry, it’s okay to have bent knees and for your heels to be raised. You should just feel a calf stretch.
Imagine you are doing a shoulder press and push your palms into the ground and try to externally rotate the shoulders (think about wrapping your shoulder blades around your ribcage under your arms). Head and neck are relaxed. At the end of the workout you can hold this inverted position to aid relaxation. Or at the start peddle the feet from tip toe to flat on the ground to warm up the ankles.
2. Half kneeling hip flexor stretch
Front foot flat on the ground. Back knee under the hip. Squeeze the back glute and think of a slight pelvic tilt. Reach up overhead either with both arms or the arm that is on the side that is stretching.
Try not to overarch the lower back or let the ribs flare or lift. Use your exhalation to help pull the ribcage down towards the pelvis. You can either hold this position at the end of your workout for 1-3minutes to open out the front of the thigh. Or at the start of the workout pulse in and out of this to help open up the lats, get the glutes firing and get the hip flexors ready for exercises like squatting and lunging.
3. Pigeon pose
This opens out the hip external rotators which can get tight from sitting down too much, driving and so forth.
To get into position to stretch right gluteal area: In 4-point kneeling position drive right knee up towards right wrist. The right shin will be across the floor with the right ankle somewhat under the left hip. Extend the left leg behind.
Either stay up on your hands and push the floor away, shoulders away from ears. Or drop onto your forearms and rest your head on a prop or on the ground. This is a good position to breathe into the belly and feel it expanding into the top of the thighs.
4. T-spine rotation/windmill stretch
The middle back can get stiff, if we start to lose rotation in the middle back then the lower back ends up compensating then we end up moving too much with the lower back, which can cause lower back issues. Stiff thoracic spine can also affect shoulder health and overhead pressing movements.
Lay on your side, support head if needed. Draw top leg up to 90 degrees, either hook lower hand over the leg or rest the leg on a prop. Bottom leg can be straight, or for extra benefit, grasp the ankle with your top arm – so the lower leg is in a quad stretch/hip flexor stretch position. Don’t worry if you can’t grasp the lower leg to begin with.
Then rotate your rib cage away from the front leg, look over your shoulder. Deep exhalation in the open position.
This mobility targets the outside of the top hip, lower leg quads and hip flexors, T-spine and helps open up the chest. Either hold position or move in and out.
5. Puppy dog pose
A great pose to finish your workout with. Helps open up the lats, chest and t-spine that can get tight from everyday living and chest work in the gym!
It looks a bit like Childs pose – possibly the most famous yoga pose. Except with this, have your knees directly under your hips, thighs are vertical. Knees hip width to shoulder width apart. Reach arms along the ground in front and rest forehead on the ground if you can – just like a puppy playing!
Hold and feel the upper body drop towards the floor, open up and relax. Hold for 1-3 minutes.
Feeling inspired to get into stretching too?
Our rugby-playing, gym-going, hardcore cyclist, staff memmber, Joe, decided he was - follow his story Getting into Yoga, as he tries it for the first time!
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