More often overlooked than overdone, the benefits of stretching extend beyond the stretch itself. According to Ben Greenfield, personal trainer and author of Beyond Training, spending time lengthening your limbs also has mental benefits. According to Greenfield, going through a series of stretches can reduce stress and cortisol levels, the very culprits that undermine training and overall health.
While stretching after the muscles are warmed up, i.e., following a walk, ski, run, spin or workout is ideal, it is beneficial whenever it is done. Some people find that light movement and some stretching in the morning after being in bed all night or before a workout or ski is helpful to get the blood flowing and loosen limbs after sleeping, sitting or driving in a car to a destination.
Following are two warm up exercises and five simple and easy to do stretches that take approximately 10 minutes total (allow for a few extra minutes the first few times until you get the hang of each exercise). Combined, this sequence addresses key areas, shoulder to toe. Spend 10 minutes at least 3-4 times a week and notice how much better you feel, breath and perform.
Stretching Warm Up:
- Take a small lacrosse or tennis ball, place it on the ground or wall and gently roll the ball around your glutes to release tension. Do this for 15-20 seconds per side.
- Take the same ball or a larger softball, place on the floor and gently roll your calves back and forth over the ball to release calf tension. Be sure this is gentle rolling, not digging in too deep. Do this for 15-20 seconds per side.
Stretching Tip: According to Muscle Repair Shop owner and therapist Butch Phelps, a functional movement specialist, hold each stretch for 3-5 seconds, exhaling as you move into each stretch position and then repeat 8-10 times. This allows for greater blood flow and the mind/body release that helps ease muscle tension and chronic pain This is much more effective than the one or two-time 20-30 second hold that is most commonly recommended by physical therapists.
Chest Opener | Muscles targeted: chest, shoulders
- Stand facing a corner of a room. With your arms at your sides and elbows bent at about shoulder height, press one palm into each wall while staggering your feet behind you.
- Slowly lean inward, pressing your chest towards the wall as you exhale until you feel a stretch in your chest.
- Hold for 3-5 seconds, release back and repeat 8-10 times without allowing your forearms or hands to move.
Calf Stretch | Muscles targeted: feet and calves
(Note: If you suffer from Plantar Fasciitis or other chronic foot or calf issues, according to Butch Phelps of The Muscle Repair Shop, do this special Stretch n’ Release technique stretch 2x per day and relieve your issue in five days!
- Get a yoga strap, rope, or belt, as long as it is not elastic to stretch your calves. Elastic bands are designed for strength training and that is the opposite of what we want to do.
- Sit on the floor with your back against the wall and one leg straight out in front of you. Place the rope around the ball of your foot holding both ends together in your hands. Only use your hands to pull your toes back toward you. Do not use your leg muscles at all.
- Make sure your back is at least 90 degrees to your legs and gently pull the toes back toward. Hold it for 3-5 seconds while you breath out to relax the muscle. Repeat the stretch 8-10 times. You should feel it behind your knee. Next, rotate your foot inward and repeat the stretch. You should feel it on the outside of the calf. Finally rotate your foot to the outside and repeat the stretch. You should feel it on the inside of the calf.
Glute Bridge | Muscles targeted: glutes, quads, core
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet as close to your pelvis as possible.
- Press down through your heels and lift your pelvis off the floor.
- Continue lifting and squeezing your glute muscles as you exhale until your body makes a straight line from your shoulders to your knees (your shoulders should still be on the floor). Keep your knees in line with your feet.
- Hold at the top for 3-5 seconds before lowering back down. Repeat 8-10 times.
Figure-Four Stretch | Muscles targeted: piriformis (a gluteal muscle)
- Lie on your back with knees bent and feet pressed into the ground.
- Cross your left ankle over your right knee, and then reach your hands around your right thigh.
- Pull your right thigh towards you as you exhale (keeping your upper body on the floor). Hold for 3-5 seconds, release back down to the floor and repeat 8-10 times before switching to the other side.
- To increase stretch, straighten the bent knee pointing the toes toward the ceiling. Hold for 3-5 sec and repeat on the same leg 8-10 times before switching sides.
Standing Hip Flexor Stretch | Muscles targeted: quads, hip flexors, ankles
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and toes forward.
- Bend your right knee and bring your right heel up toward your butt.
- Hold your right foot with the right hand, and gently pull to point your knee toward the floor. You can hold on to a counter or chair with your left hand for balance.
- Hold for 3-5 seconds as you breath out. Release and repeat 8-10 times per leg.
Option 2: Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch | Muscles targeted: hip flexors, ankles, quads
- Kneel with your left knee on the floor and your right leg at a 90-degree angle in front of you.
- Put your hands on your right knee and keep your back straight.
- Keeping your left knee pressed to the floor, lean forward into your right hip as you exhale while squeezing the muscles in your left buttocks.
- Hold for 3-5 seconds, release and repeat 8-10 times before switching to alternate side.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.