Stretching is a vital part of your workout. There is nothing like a good stretch when your body is aching and fatigued, but all too often, stretching is an afterthought.
The key is to build it into your weekly workouts. Try allocating five minutes at the end of every workout to do a few different stretches. Stretching won’t be such an arduous task when you start to notice the benefits.
As your body becomes suppler, more flexible and mobile, it will move more effectively. Stretching will enable you to squat deeper, run farther, and prevent you from injuries that would otherwise set you back. With all that in mind, it makes a meager five minutes seem more than worthwhile.
I have outlined three different stretching positions, primarily targeting your lower half. These movements also combine the important element of balance. So think of it as a two-for-one special in each movement.
Position 1: Standing Quad Stretch
1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart.
2. Take one foot behind your body and hold the bridge of your foot with your hand.
3. Angle your knee behind your body and press your foot into your hand to accentuate the stretch.
4. You will feel this through your quadriceps (the muscles at the front of your thighs).
Position 2: Tree Pose
1. Place your right foot above or below your left knee. The higher your foot, the harder it will be to balance.
2. Place your hands into a prayer position in the center of your chest.
3. Focus on your bent knee opening to the side of the room.
4. This is great hip-opening stretch.
Pose 3: Glute Stretch
1. Place your right foot across your left thigh.
2. Bend your left knee into a semi-squat-like position.
3. If it is too difficult to balance, place your hands around your left ankle or the floor.
4. This will stretch your gluteus minimus (the small muscle on the side of your buttocks).
Getting It Right
Hold each stretch for at least 45 seconds. One minute or longer is ideal. If you hold for less than 45 seconds, you won’t get the true benefit of the exercise. It will still feel good but won’t really serve the purpose of decreasing the tightness and improving flexibility in the target area.
All three movements require you to hold your balance on one leg. If this is too difficult at first, stand beside a wall or chair and hold on to a stable surface for an increase in balance. It always surprises me how little balance people have.
Balance is such an important aspect for your fitness, particularly as you age and your balance naturally decreases. Many elderly people fall due to poor balance. Use this as motivation to work on your balance now, so you won’t risk the chance of injury later in life.
Emma-Kate Stampton is a personal trainer who also certifies Pilates instructors. She is based in Brisbane, Australia.