Nothing feels better after a long workout than a good stretch. Stretching before and after exercise is important for injury prevention, muscle recovery and mobility. Here are five of my favorite stretches. They are simple, but effective. Try holding each pose for one minute, or ten breaths. Breathe and Enjoy!
The Downward Dog:
I love this stretch for the hamstrings and as a shoulder opener. Feet and hands should be shoulder width apart. Shoulders should be open and extended, while thighs pull back and up. You want a straight line from your sitting bones to your hands. You can keep the head in line with the spine, or let it hang and relax as pictured. The distance between hands and feet is entirely up to you. Do whatever feels comfortable, bend your knees, walk out your calves, have fun!
There are many variations on this stretch; here is how I like mine. With the right leg forward, knee should be over the ankle at a ninety-degree angle. I keep both hands to the left of my leg, directly under the shoulders. Try to keep a straight line from the crown of the head down to your back heel. If the stretch is too much, bend the back knee and place the calf on the ground. Most people like to sink down into this stretch and let gravity do the work. I prefer to support some of my body weight using hands and core, lifting up and out of the hips. This causes the hip flexors to relax, allowing for a deeper stretch. Don’t forget both sides!
Rotating Runner’s Lunge:
Beginning from the lunge position, slowly rotate your torso towards the knee that is bent. Making sure the spine stays straight; allow your outside hand to extend to the ceiling, while your lower arm supports your body directly under the shoulder. Try to make a straight line from top hand to bottom hand, working towards making the torso open and perpendicular to the ground. Go slow – it’s always a must when rotating the spine!
Start with legs wide (about one leg length apart) and toes pointing forward. Walk your hands out in front of you as far as possible, keeping the hips pulling back and spine straight. This is great for shoulder opening, hamstring and inner thigh lengthening. Maybe you can’t get your hands to the floor? No problem, keep hands on the waist or reaching forward as you slowly bend forward from the hips – same stretch! Another option would be to bend the knees until you can reach the ground.
This is a great hip opener! Lie down with your spine in a neutral position. Bring the right leg to a 90 degree chair position and place the left foot on the right knee making a triangle. Keep the left foot flexed; small thing, but it keeps the left knee uncompromised from a torque position. With both hands behind the right thigh (not knee), pull the right leg towards you. You should feel this in your left hip. Remember to switch sides!
I lied, there are 6 stretches: From the beginning Figure 4 position, lower the right leg to the floor, while keeping the left leg on top. Open the arms to a T position and slowly take the legs to the right until the left heel hits the floor. This is a spinal twist as well as a nice stretch for the IT band (iliotibial – the long muscle that runs along the side of your thigh from hip to knee). If you can’t feel it, place the right arm on top of the left thigh and add some slight pressure.
Photos by Veronica Reeve