7 Essential Stretches You Can’t Live Without
Let’s face it, when your workout is running short on time, stretching is the first thing to go. Recovery often takes a back seat to all your hard work at the gym.
But recovery is more important than you may think, and stretching is the first place to start. In addition to helping you prevent injury, stretching can also improve your weight lifting and resistance training efforts.
How to Stretch Properly
The general rule is to hold a stretch for at least 30 seconds. Make sure you breathe throughout the stretch – if you have to hold your breath, you’re engaging the stretch too deeply.
When it comes to cardiovascular exercise like running, it’s a good idea to stretch before and after. Stretching beforehand helps to warm up your muscles and get your blood circulating, while stretching afterwards helps relieve some of the built up tension and prevent soreness.
When lifting weights, however, research has shown that stretching is best saved for the end of the workout, in order to improve recovery and increase your gains. Stretching beforehand, however, just tires your muscles prematurely and can potentially minimize your overall strength and endurance. To warm up before a hard workout, you’re best to do some light cardio or jump rope.
7 Essential Stretches
There are some stretches that should be a main part of your workout routine – stretches that you just can’t live without. Let’s review 7 key stretches to improve recovery and boost your fitness results.
1. Lunge with Side Stretch – I like this stretch because it hits both your upper and lower body. Engage in a typical lunge, stepping back with one leg and allowing your front leg to bend at a 90 degree angle (ensuring your knee doesn’t move past your toes). Bring your back knee as close to the floor as possible, and lift up your arm on the same side, bringing your hand over your head.
2. Hamstring Stretch – This is a classic stretch, but one of the best for your hamstrings. Start by sitting on a mat and extending one leg out in front of you (toes pointed towards the ceiling), with your other leg tucked into the opposite thigh. Bend forward slowly without straining your back, reaching forward and gripping your foot with body hands.
3. Runner’s Stretch – Also known as pigeon pose in yoga, this one really targets your glutes. Start in a lunge position on a mat, and lower your body until your back leg and knee are resting on the floor. Bring the opposite foot inward toward your torso, tucking it under your abdomen as you lower yourself to the ground. Extend your arms forward, and lower deeper into the stretch as you breathe deeply.
4. Chest Opening Stretch – In a standing position, extend both arms behind you and interlace your fingers. Slowly, pull your hands back, farther away from your torso, letting your elbows straighten. You should feel a pull on your chest muscles as your chest opens. Hold here.
5. Overhead Triceps Stretch – Either sitting or standing, lift both arms above and behind your head. Bend your left elbow, and reach down your back with your left hand as far as possible, with your left elbow behind your head. To push your arm deeper into the stretch, grip your left elbow with your right hand.
6. Downward Dog Stretch – This one’s a classic, but one of the best stretches for your back. Start on all fours, with your hands and feet at about shoulder width. Lift your butt towards the ceiling, straightening your knees as much as possible while putting your head down towards the ground and straightening your elbows. Continue going deeper into the pose, trying to align your arms with your shoulders and back.
7. Cobra Stretch – Another one from yoga, the cobra stretch targets both your lower back and your abs. Lie face down on a mat, and place your palms on the floor just below your shoulders. Without lifting your hips off the ground, push up with your arms until your elbows straighten, lifting your upper body off the ground and feeling the stretch in your core. Tilt your head backwards slightly, and hold here.
Want to Intensify Your Stretches?
An easy way to improve many of your stretches is to invest in a good set of stretch bands, like these Latex Stretch Bands. They can actually help you deepen your stretch and improve your results!
Of course, yoga is one of the best approaches to flexibility training. Consider this Gaiam Yoga for Beginners Kit, and you can get the same results from the comfort of your home.
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