5 Great Stretches for Every Body
I like to call flexibility training the ugly stepsister of the exercise world because everyone seems to overlook it until it’s too late. Eventually you strain or sprain something or you’re so stiff from step class that you want to cry. I teach yoga and Pilates, and my favorite party trick is bringing my left heel over my head and feeding myself a little snack between my toes. I know, I know, it grosses out my husband, too. For many people, however, stretching does not come so easy. But being limber is not just about impressing (or horrifying) people at cocktail parties, is an essential part of being truly fit.
Three general things make up your flexibility potential:
- Age (younger folks are more flexible)
- Gender (women are typically more supple)
- Climate (Muscles are far more pliant in warmer temperatures)
Below are the five stretches everybody can practice a few times a week. Do them after any other workout, and you’ll soothe all of your major muscle groups in less than 10 minutes. I’d also like to give a shout-out to the practice of yoga. Since more than 20 million or so people began practicing yoga in the last decade, flexibility training has finally become as important to fitness as cardiovascular training and strength training. Yoga is the ultimate, full-body stretch, for sure, and some studies show that stretching makes your body much stronger, too.
1. Downward Dog (opens the chest, back, arms, shoulders, legs, back)
Just like in yoga class, place palms at least shoulder-width apart, and walk your bare feet to the back of your mat or at least three feet backwards. Try to get your heels to touch the mat (feet are hip-width apart), and send energy along your body back into your legs and breathe deeply. You can pedal one leg at a time if you’re super-tight through the hamstrings at the back of your legs, and lengthen your whole body for a minute or two.
2. Seated Forward Reach (stretches back, legs, postural muscles along the spine, and arms)
Sit on the floor with legs straight out in front of you, and flex your feet upward. Reach up as high as you can with both arms to lengthen your spine, then gently fall forward reaching your hands toward both feet, and hold for a minute. Bend your knees slightly if your back is really tight, and grab onto your calves or ankles, or whatever feels right, and hold for a minute or two.
3. Open-Leg Split (targets thighs, lower legs, hips, groin)
Sit tall and open your straight legs as wide as you comfortably can. Flex feet up and press your groin into the mat or floor. Gently start walking your hands forward in between your legs, and hold for one minute. If this feels fine, stretch sideways over your right foot for one minute, then switch over to your left foot for one minute.
4. Knees-to-Chest (soothes lower back, hips, lower body)
Lie back and bring both knees up toward your chest, lengthening your tailbone on the floor. Wrap your arms around your bent legs and rock back and forth for a minute or two – this should feel great if you’ve been sitting all day.
5. Reverse Prayer at Your Desk (soothes hands, fingers, forearms, shoulders, upper back)
Sit at the edge of an office chair and try to bring your palms to touch at your lower back. Roll your shoulder blades back, and bring chin down toward the chest. Try to keep your fingers pointing up to your shoulder blades. Slowly inch your touching palms up higher on your back as far as they can go and hold for as long as you can.