Picture this: You’re at the gym. You’ve just finished your workout. Your legs are on fire, you can’t even feel your arms and your abs feel as if you’re being stabbed and punched all at once. What do you do? If you answered suck it up and go home, oh boy, we have some work to do. Let’s face it, we all do it: end our workouts and get out of the weight room as fast as our screaming bodies will carry us.
What we might not realize is the damage we do to our bodies both before and after a workout if we don’t take five minutes to stretch. Whether it’s a quick but effective warm-up stretch or a longer cool-down stretch, it’s necessary for our muscles and quite frankly, the rest of our well-being.
Here are a few easy but effective stretching moves for you to add into your workout regime.
Ladies, if you took dance classes when you were four years old, you know this. Men, it’s not that hard. Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet pressed together. It’s like “criss-cross applesauce” but not crossed. Once you are situated, you can either hold your ankles or your toes. Now, roll your hips forward and let your knees and hip flexors relax. Whatever you do, do not force your knees down. That’s a great way to tear something.
2. The Pike
This is a great stretch for your hamstrings. Sit on the floor with your legs out straight in front of you. Either point or flex your feet (sometimes flexing them gives you a better stretch). Reach your arms above your head and then basically fold in half, fingers reaching as far forward on your legs as you can. If you’re flexible enough to grab your feet and touch your chest to your legs, good for you. If not, don’t force it. Hold for 10 seconds or so, then either flex or point your toes, the opposite of how you started.
3. Downward Dog
I’m going to go yoga on you for a minute. Downward Dog is a great stretch for your legs and back. Start on your hands and knees, and then push back on your toes, coming into basically an upside down V position. Take a few deep breaths. If your heels don’t touch the ground, it’s okay. The flexibility will build with the more stretches you do. If you need a break from the pose, bend your knees, and come back to a “table” position, just on your hands and knees. Repeat a few times for a better stretch.
4. Runner’s Lunge
If I screw this one up, don’t send the track team after me. Runner’s Lunge is great for your hip flexors. Stand in a pike position, hands on the floor if possible. Bend your knees, and step one foot back, lengthening the leg completely. Make sure your bent knee is over your ankle, not pressing over your foot. Maintain a 90 degree angle with your bent knee. Hold it for 10 seconds, and then step back in with the straight leg. Come back to the pike position and repeat with the other leg stepping back. If you’re feeling adventurous, try to balance with your arms above your head while you are in the lunge.
5. Ab Stretches
I like to call these “Seal Stretches.” When you’ve just finished a solid abdominal workout and all you want to do is curl up in a ball, don’t. Instead, lie on your stomach with your arms beside your chest. Slowly, push up so your chest comes off the floor and your arms straighten. Your abs will stretch right out. Slowly lower your upper body back to the floor, and repeat a few times.
Well, there you have it. Stretching is an important part of working out because it keeps our muscles loose and flexible. Maintaining a steady breath throughout stretching calms the mind and heart down; it also keeps you in the moment.
There’s a ton of stretches out there, so find the ones that work for you and add them into your routine. You’ll become more flexible, have fewer mornings where you wake up feeling like you’re 104, and you’ll prevent unnecessary injuries to your body. Go stretch.