Everyone knows that they should stretch, right? Yes, it is important to take the time to care for your muscles. But, the other thing to understand is how to stretch. A common mistake is to stretch muscles while they are cold. Think of muscles like spaghetti. When it is uncooked, it is brittle, easier to snap. When spaghetti is cooked, it is warm, pliable and easier to bend. Be sure to warm up the muscles (5-10 minute walk/jog) before you stretch. You’ll want to perform pre-exercise stretches that will warm up the muscles being used in your workout. If you are running or cycling, be sure to stretch not only the legs, but hips and lower back. If you are doing an upper body weight circuit, be sure to perform stretches that waken-up those sleepy chest, back and shoulder muscles as well as your core.
Here is a list of my top 5 stretches for runners and lower back. I make sure to do these everyday to keep my muscles in balance:
If you’re on your feet all day, decompressing the spine will feel amazing. Stand with feet hip width apart. Bend at the waist and let the crown of your head reach towards the ground. Let your arms hang heavy towards the ground. With your hands, grab your opposite elbows. Gently rock your arms side to side or shift your body weight from the balls of your feet into your heels. Try wiggling your hips and arms around a bit to find a sweet spot that works for you.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Sitting at a desks means the muscles on the front of your hips – the hip flexors - are shortened. The same is true for repetitive movements like running and cycling. To lengthen the hip flexors, stand in a starting lunge position, one foot in front of the other. Bend both knees so you’re in a quarter lunge. Tuck your tailbone under so your spine is very straight from the base of the neck all the way down to the lower spine. Push your back hip forward. Slowly straighten and bend the legs about 10 times. Each time, pushing the hip forward a little more
Tight muscles on the front of your leg - your quadriceps - can cause both knee and hip problems. Walk forward while kicking your heels up towards your butt. If you plan on sprinting during your workouts – try jogging while kicking your heels up for a more dynamic stretch.
A tight shoulder can eventually lead to tight hips. Since the shoulder joint moves in several different planes of movement, it’s important to stretch them in several different ways.
- Standing in place, reach your arms out laterally. Start moving your hands in a forward motion with small circles. Then, let the circles get bigger. Switch directions.
- Standing in place, place your arms by your side, palms facing towards legs. Flip your palms up, lift your hands all the way over head (if you have shoulder impingement, only go as far overhead as you feel comfortable). Clap your hands overhead, then bring them down by your side. Repeat 10-15x
- Stand in place, pretend like you are swimming. Do the forward stroke, making sure to keep a bend in your elbows. Then do the back stroke.
WindmillsThis “old school” movement is perfect for preparing your body for rotational movements required in sports like softball, golf, and tennis or in any exercise where you’ll be using your oblique (side) abdominal muscles. Stand with your feet hip width apart, arms out to the side. Reach the arm across the body, then the other. 10-15x. Reach you hand towards the opposite foot 10-15x. Reach your hands up high 10-15x.
Jill Tomich is the busy Co-Founder of Ultimate Bootcamp and a Lifestyle & Weight Management Consultant who takes time out of her day to stretch and keep her joints moving.