The sun is shining…it’s time to get out and get fit!
Let’s start with a mantra that is sure to motivate: “No matter how slow you go, you’re lapping everyone on the couch.”
Now that we’ve done that, we’re ready to dive in and do the most heavy-weight exercise possible, right? WRONG!
It’s never a good idea to just jump in and exercise. You should stretch and get warmed up, first. Even if you’re not going to work out, it’s a great idea to stretch. It mentally prepares your mind for the workout and the day ahead. Studies have even shown that spending a few minutes stretching and doing mindful breathing every day reduces anxiety and stress and alleviates muscle tension.
Stretching can also help you physically, providing these benefits:
- Improved blood circulation
- More flexibility
- Better balance and posture
- Reduced risk of injury
- Relief from muscle tension and fatigue
So, how do you effectively and safely warm-up and stretch before a workout? The first thing to know: don’t rush it! Rushing can lead to pulled or strained muscles. You have to pay attention to your body, because ifyou overstretch you could put painful stress on your muscles.
Start with a little cardio and walk or bike for about five minutes in order to raise your body temperature. After you’ve finished and your heart rate has risen, you can roll your head in circles. Do a few shoulder shrugs. Then do a few rotations: arms, hips, and torso. Now you’re stretched and ready to exercise, right? WRONG!
Now you can begin your first real stretch.
Reach down slowly and go as far as you can in order to touch your toes. Don’t worry if you can’t yet…as you build flexibility, it’ll become easier.
Repeat this a couple of times, then you can do these stretches for each of your muscle groups:
- Hamstring Stretches: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and slowly reach your hands down and try to touch your toes. Your knees should be slightly bent. Hold the stretch for a few seconds before releasing and repeating. You can also do the hurdler stretch. To do this, sit down on a mat and tuck one leg in. Extend the other leg out in front of you and reach toward your toes with both hands. Hold this position for 10 to 15 seconds before releasing and repeat with your other leg.
- IT Band Stretches: This tendon runs down the outer side of your thigh from your hip to knee. Sit down on a mat and extend your legs in front of you. Bend your left knee and cross it over your right leg. Turn your body towards the bent knee and look over your left shoulder. Hold for a few seconds then repeat with your other leg.
- Calf Stretches: Stand on something elevated, like a curb. Stand with your heels hanging off the edge and slowly do calf raises. Hold the movement when you feel the stretch.
- Quad Stretches: Place both feet on the ground. Balance on one foot, grab your other foot, and pull it towards your bottom. Your leg should be bent at the knee. If you need help to balance, you can use a wall.
This is best stretched with a runner’s lunge. Get into a high-plank position. To do this, start on all fours on the floor with your hands right under your shoulders and your knees bent under your hips. Step one leg back at a time until your position is similar to a push-up in the up position. Bring your left foot up and step into a deep lunge with your foot outside of your planted hand. Rock gently back and forth and do circular motions in this position. Bring your left back and repeat with the right.
- Biceps: Find a wall or pole. Place one hand against the wall and slowly turn away from the wall. Keep your arm flush to the wall if possible, but if you can’t, don’t worry about it. Adjust the placement to higher or lower to get different areas of your bicep.
- Triceps: Raise your arm above your head, bend it at the elbow, and gently push down using your other hand.
- Forearm: Extend one of your arms directly in front of you. Keep your arm straight and with the other hand, grab your fingers and gently pull back. Hold this for 20 to 30 seconds.
Extend one arm out and across the other side of your body. Grab the extended arm and pull it closer to your chest. When you feel the stretch, hold for 20 to 30 seconds then repeat with your other arm.
There are three great stretches for the back we will review.
- Seated Spinal Twist: Sit down and place both legs in front of you. Tuck one leg in with a bend at the knee. Place your foot to the other side of the still extended leg. Twist at the spine using your arms to stabilize you. Repeat on the other side.
- Cat-Cow: This is easy to do. Get on all fours in a tabletop position. Look up and invert your spine pushing your belly to the ground. Next, tuck your chin and arch your back towards the ceiling. Rotate between these two movements while inhaling and exhaling.
- Backbend: Lay on your stomach with your legs extended behind you and plant your hands on the ground right below your shoulders. Your face should almost touch the mat or floor. Raise the top half of your body by extending your arms (like with a push-up.) Keep your legs extended and touching the mat. Slowly lower your top half to the mat and repeat for a few minutes.
One final note when exercising and stretching: remember to keep hydrated!