When we hit a strong desire for change we don’t usually begin with stretching. We hit the treadmill, the elliptical, or potentially, the weights. If you begin with limited range of motion you’re going to get limited return on results. These four stretches target the most commonly tight areas due to over-trained and undertrained muscles. We sit too much. We do repetitive movements. Then we get habits of compensating that set us up for imbalance that could lead to injury.
At best, do these stretches and moving more will feel like more of a joy. At worst, do these stretches daily and you’ll avoid a potential injury before it gets that far. These are four stretches included in the cool down phases of the You Still Got It, Girl video series I.
1. The No. 4 Piriformis Stretch
This stretch sets up with you crossing one ankle over the opposite knee. Get the bony structure of the ankle all the way past the leg. Reach through with your hands and hold the other thigh to bring it toward you until you feel a stretch. If you’re flexible you can bring your arms on top of the shin instead as pictured, or you can reach up under the shin crossed with both hands.
Activate the leg crossed by pressing the knee away from your shoulders. You’re not using your hands to do this; you want to use the leg in order to activate the muscles. You’ll feel a deeper stretch in the hip as you do even if there seems to be no movement of the knee away from your shoulders.
Prop your head on a pillow if this position is awkward for your neck. Relax your head and shoulders to the floor. Hold for about a minute on each side. You’ll definitely know which hip is tighter. Pay special attention to it and you can stretch that tighter side twice.
You can do this stretch lying or seated in a chair. If you’re familiar with yoga, pigeon pose is another way to perform this stretch that may feel better if the position illustrated isn’t comfortable. Each of those options provides a different unique angle so if you’re able to do all you can rotate which stretch you do.
2. The Chest Opening Bridge
Lying on your back raise your hips toward the ceiling. Reach under your back and clasp hands. Wiggle your shoulders under you to open your chest and shoulders. Then press the length of your arms, your heels, and the center of your head into the floor. Avoid tucking your chin to your chest and instead leave a neutral spine and small space between your neck and the floor.
Stay here for several deep breaths. Point your pelvis toward your knees to increase the stretch across your hip flexors too.
You can do one long hold of up to a minute or repeat the stretch if you need to hold for a shorter time.
3. The Front of Body Arching Lunge
In a staggered lunge position tip your hips forward as if you are trying to point your tailbone to a spot on the floor in front of you. That alone while you’re in an upright position should increase the stretch at your hip flexor. Then lean into the lunge until you feel a comfortable stretch. If you’re comfortable, raise your arm up straight overhead. (the same arm as you have the leg back) Engage your core so if you choose to increase the stretch by moving the arm further back there’s no discomfort in your low back.
This stretch integrates all of the muscle in the front of the body. They move and tighten together when you do exercise or work. It makes sense for the body that you stretch them all together rather than isolate one muscle at a time.
This stretch is shown kneeling. You can also do it standing.
4. Side Bending Stretch
There’s a saying that goes, “you’re only as young as the spine is flexible.” One of the things we often neglect to do unless you’re regularly participating in yoga or Pilates (and it can be hard to fit it all in!), is stretch the spine laterally.
Stand tall. Raise your arms overhead. Send your right heel down into the floor. With your left hand hold your right wrist and imagine pulling it longer toward the ceiling. Try to keep the shoulders down and relaxed. Let your head fall onto the left arm. As you move your arms and head toward the left, keep grounding that right heel into the floor. Your hips should move slightly more to the right to both balance you and to increase the right side of body stretch.
Stay and take a few deep breaths. If your breath is restricted, back off a little. If you feel you can increase the stretch do so on a last exhale. Inhale to come up as that will help you brace and gain strength in the core.
This stretch can also be done seated. There will be a little less benefit but if balance is in question, do the safest version.
These four stretches if you can make time for them will take you about 7 minutes. They could prevent injury, release tension, and be a great reminder to breath a little deeper for a few minutes. Couple them with a habit you’re already doing. Let them replace your cool down stretches after your regular exercise routine. Do them after you brush your teeth at night. Until doing them feels so good it becomes a habit keep the reminders close by.
P.S. Share your stretching habits… what are you doing to get or stay flexible? Yoga, pilates? Do you stretch regularly or are you in need of increasing that habit?