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Published on December 25, 2018

Try These Flexibility Stretches to Enhance Your Daily Workout

Try These Flexibility Stretches to Enhance Your Daily Workout

Having a flexible body is essential for everyday life, and particularly for exercise. Think of all the things you do throughout your day that cause your muscles to tighten or create discomfort: Being stuck behind a desk, standing for long periods of time, repetitive motions, driving long distances, and exercising without properly maintaining a limber body are all ways that keep you from having a well-balanced and efficient lifestyle.

To fully optimize your workout, it is necessary to be flexible in order to perform your exercises properly — by getting full range of motion in which your joints can potentially move. Here’s why:[1]

When we don’t stretch before and after a workout, our muscles hold onto toxins, we risk injury, recovery time takes longer, and our performance is decreased.

In order to prevent restrictive mobility, we must do flexibility stretches.[2] Common areas that need stretching and/or flexibility are the hips, back, knees, and ankles. In this article, you will see why it is not only important to stretch, but to balance the planes of motion in which our body parts move.

How To Stretch

Done consistently, the following flexibility stretches will enhance your workout, you will gain greater range of motion, improve balance, and recover more quickly for your next workout.

Typically, a static stretch should be held for 20-60 seconds (International Sports Sciences Association), remembering not to overstretch which can cause injury as overstretching can cause pulled muscles and tears.

In a comfortable stretch, you should feel just a slight pull without going beyond normal range of motion. Always be aware of your breathing during a stretch.

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For example, if you are doing a flexibility movement for the knee, just before you go into the stretch, take a deep breath and then exhale once you are into the stretch. Breathing is important as it relaxes the muscles and helps to loosen them.

Your body should be warm before stretching to increase blood flow. This can be a 3-minute ride on a stationary bike or slowly-controlled, 45-60 second body weight squats.

Hips Stretches

The hips tend to give us trouble when we get into our 40’s and 50’s, and the cause of pain is not always injury or over-use, but rather, lack of stretching in the hip flexor muscles.

Even if you’re not a sedentary person, you walk throughout your work day, climb stairs, or stand for long periods of time, you must keep your hips flexible to keep them from tightening which can cause other problems, like lower back pain. (Everything is connected.)

Oftentimes, people who are active tend to think that because they cycle, run, or perform other exercises that recruit the hip flexors, they don’t need to stretch because their hips are constantly moving; Not so. What people don’t recognize is that over time these and other movements create muscle imbalances, spasms, and affect posture.

When your hips are flexible, the exercises that recruit gluteal muscles, like the squat and lunge, have better control. Take a look at these 4 hip flexor stretches by Guerilla Zen Fitness:

Back/Spine Stretches

The back and abdominal muscles support the core and are necessary to have a strong gait. In order to have a strong back, you must open up your chest and sides of your back with various stretches.

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Sometimes, without noticing it, we rely on our back for a variety of movements, such as looking over our shoulder to pass safely in our vehicle, rising up from a chair, reaching up high for an object, etc.

These passive movements seem easy, but without a stable core, you’re left with a weak spine and the movements can become challenging over time.

Having a flexible spine and strong core is great for exercises like crunches, torso circles, side bends, lying leg raises, and sit-ups.

Here are 3 spinal flexibility stretches by Strength Side:

You can also incorporate regular yoga practice into your daily routine as a holistic approach to gaining flexibility in your back.

One of my favorite things about yoga is that it moves energy throughout the entire body, with special attention to the spine. In addition, yoga helps to lengthen muscles and opens up the space between the ribs and vertebrae, which minimizes tension and reduces headaches and backaches.[3]

Try these yoga poses that are not only good for flexibility but for overall relaxation. Hold each pose for 10 to 15 breaths:[4]

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    Knees Stretches

    The use of our legs to walk, run, swim or do any the movement that involves the legs also involves the knees. Flexibility in and around the knee joints is essential for mobility, and because everything is connected, flexibility in the knees will also create flexibility in other areas, such as the ankles, which will I will address next.

    So, if the exercises you perform on machines, such as the leg extension or leg curl, which move in the sagittal plane – that is, forward and backward or up and down – are among your go-to’s when training your lower body, you must have flexible knees.

    Here are 3 knee strengthening examples by Strength Side:

    Ankles Exercises

    Ankles run into all kinds of problems, like walking, wearing high heels or uncomfortable shoes, flat feet, trauma, improper footing when performing exercises, arthritis, and even swimming. All of these can cause tendonitis – The inflammation surrounding tendons in the lower leg muscles.

    Despite what it may look like, the foot does not remain in the same position during up-and-down movements which is why it is important to maintain flexibility in the muscles surrounding the ankle joint.

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    Flexibility allows for various positions (International Sports Sciences Association). In addition to the following exercises, R.I.C.E. (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) is also effective for relieving ankle pain. Here are some examples of how to increase ankle and foot mobility:

    Planes of Motion

    Balancing your body’s planes of motion is necessary, not only for weight training and other exercise, but for gaining flexibility as well.

    Our body is a powerhouse because it is not limited to a single plan of motion movement, and instead has the ability to move in multiple directions – Sagittal, frontal, and transverse.

    For example, when doing flexibility exercises for your back, you should also work our abdominal muscles. Similarly, when weight-training your quadriceps, you should balance them by also training your hamstrings. This creates balance, coordination, and functionality:[5]

      Bonus Tip

      Keep in mind that stretching can go hand-in-hand with the use of sports medicine equipment, such as a foam roller to pre-condition tight muscles and break up lactic acid, compression apparel to maintain warmth, and even a lacrosse ball to target trigger points.[6]

      Now that you are familiar with stretches where common injuries occur, you should experience relief in multiple areas of your body and in your daily life. Tension, stress, and tight muscles can now be curtailed by effective stretching before and after your activities, and your muscles will be more relaxed and efficient, thereby increasing your performance.

      More Resources About Stretching Exercises

      Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Muscle Mechanics, International Sports Sciences Association, “Fitness: The Complete Guide,” page 166
      [2] Flexibility Training, International Sports Sciences Association, “Fitness: The Complete Guide,” page 343
      [3] Top Fuel Crossfit: Yoga Poses to Relieve Headaches: Lengthening the Spine
      [4] Rukmani Iyengar: 5 Yoga Asanas to Reduce Back Pain
      [5] Kai Simon: How To Improve Your Workout: Planes Of Motion
      [6] Flexibility Training, International Sports Sciences Association, “Fitness: The Complete Guide,” page 343.

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      Terri West

      Certified Fitness Trainer & Nutrition Specialist

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      Last Updated on May 22, 2019

      10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

      10 Simple Morning Exercises That Will Make You Feel Great All Day

      There are lots of studies that show if you do some exercise in the morning, you will be in a better mood all day long. You will have more energy and you will certainly be a better colleague, friend or partner.

      One psychologist at Duke University has researched the effects of exercise on depressed patients and he has come to the conclusion that exercise has a definite role in treating this condition and has an important role in preventing people from relapsing.[1] According to the New York Times, scientists have now established that exercise also boosts your brain power.[2]

      In addition, there are studies from the Appalachian State University which show that blood pressure can be reduced by doing regular morning exercise.[3]

      Here are 10 simple morning exercises that will help you feel great the whole day long. You can include some of them in your morning exercise routine or do them all at home without having to enrol in a gym. Consult your doctor before starting any form of exercise routine if you are new to this.

      1. Cat Camel Stretch

      Stretching exercises are useful for muscle toning and also preventing arthritis. They can either be dynamic or static.

      Dynamic ones such as the cat camel stretch, are particularly useful for doing other exercises in the morning. They are also beneficial at other times of the day, especially after long periods of sedentary work. This one is great for spinal flexibility and is a good warm up exercise.

      Kneel down on all fours. Start by rounding your back just like a camel so that your head will try to meet your pelvis. This is the camel position. Then lower and lift your head so that your lower back is arched. This is the cat position. Do these movements slowly and smoothly. About 4 or 5 times.

      Here’s a video to guide you through:

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      2. Go for a Walk or a Run

      This is better done outside so that you can connect with nature but running inside on a treadmill is almost as good. You can time yourself and increase length and time according to your fitness program.

      Always have new goals to reach. Start with brisk walking and work up to running. At my age, I am still walking!

      The health benefits are considerable. You can build stronger bones and you can help to maintain your weight.

      Also, you are helping your heart to stay healthy and keeping your blood pressure low.

      Learn more about the benefits of running here: 8 Benefits of Running 5 Minutes Every Day You Didn’t Know

      3. Jumping Jacks

      Michelle Obama is a great fan of this exercise and has become “Jumper in Chief.”[4] They are great for cardiovascular health and also for toning muscles especially the calves and the deltoids.

      Stand with feet together. Jump while spreading your arms and legs. Return to first position and keep going! You can start with doing these for 1 minute and then gradually build up to the number you are comfortable with. Here’s how:

      4. Abductor Side Lifts

      Watch the video below to see how to do this exercise. These muscles are important because you use them everyday to run, get into the car or onto and off a bicycle. They are very important also for your core stability and prevent the pelvis from tilting.[5]

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      Do about 10 to 15 raises for each side like this:

      5. Balancing Table Pose

      This is a classic yoga pose. It benefits the spine, balance, memory and concentration.

      Start with the table pose (hands and knees). Breathe in before starting each movement. As you exhale, raise your left leg parallel to the floor as you raise the right arm, also parallel to the floor. Breathe in as you lower arm and leg. Repeat for the other side. 10 repetitions on each side is a good starting point.

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        6. Leg Squats

        Not just legs are involved but also hips and knees.

        Stand with your feet a bit further out from your hips. Arms are out in front of you. Then lower yourself as if you wanted to sit down until you reach a 90 degree angle. You can go down further if you want to. Then return to the starting position. Repeat 15 times for 2 sets for beginners.

        The benefits are that these exercises help with knee stability and can benefit the leg muscles such as quadriceps, hamstrings and calves.[6]

        7. Push Ups

        You start lying down (face down) but with your body held up at arm’s length. Your hands should be in line with your shoulders. Breathe in as you lower your body. That is fairly easy. Now, as you exhale, you have to get back up to the starting position.

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        An easier version to start with is to bend your legs at the knees so you do not have to lift your whole body.

        Beginners may take up to a month to be able to do 100 push ups so you will have to start with a very small number and gradually increase it.

        This exercise is great for strengthening the chest, shoulders and the triceps. It is a great strengthening exercise for many muscle groups. In fact, most muscles from the toes to the shoulders are being used.

        8. Bicycle Crunches

        There are numerous crunch exercises targeting the abs. The bicycle crunch is a variation where you work more muscle groups. Aim for 15 to 20 reps to start off with.

        Watch the video to see how this is done correctly:

        9. Lunges

        Stand with feet shoulder width apart. Place your hand on your hips. Take one giant step forward with the right leg. Make sure the knee does not go too far forward, that is, past your toes. The left knee will go down to almost floor level. Alternate the legs as you go on.

        Try to do a set of between 8 and 12 reps for each leg. It is important to allow for a day of rest, so this exercise should be done on alternate days, especially if you are using weights.

        This exercise is great for strengthening and toning the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings.

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        10. Bicep Curls

        You can do this sitting down so if you spend a lot of time on the phone, this is a great exercise to do.

        Choose suitable dumbbells or another household object that you can easily hold. Sit down with the dumbbell in your hand. You need to sit forward a bit so that your triceps can lean on your thigh to give you support.

        Then bring the weighted arm up to shoulder length and then down again. Exhale as you lift the weight and inhale as you lower it.

        Here’re some important notes before you start doing this exercise:

        Try to do one or two sets of about ten repetitions for each arm and then switch arms.

        These exercises are really useful for toning the arm muscles.[7] In addition, they can strengthen and tone the brachioradialis muscle located in the forearm. These are the muscles we use to pick up things when we flex the arm at the elbow so we use these muscles countless times a day.

        You may have to build in a rest day for the heavier exercises, numbers 6–10. On the rest days, you can do gentler stretching exercises and also some walking or running.

        Morning exercise is not only a great mood booster, but will help you keep your weight down and also sleep better![8] Start including one or some of these exercises in your morning routine!

        More Articles About Exercises for Beginners

        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

        Reference

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