“Fifteen minutes to warm up? Does a lion warm up when he’s hungry? ‘Uh oh, here comes an antelope. Better warm up.’ No! He just goes out there and eats the sucker.”
– Jack Lalanne
Jack Lalanne may have been the founder of the modern fitness movement, but he had the wrong idea about stretching. Stretching increases strength, agility, stability and mobility. That’s four out of 10 components of athleticism, and it certainly doesn’t hinder the remaining six one bit!
Stretching for five to 10 minutes before a workout brings several benefits. It prepares muscles for strenuous activity by increasing blood flow to them. It loosens muscles and tendons, which decreases the risk of strain and other injuries. And because stretching fuels your muscles and improves your range of motion, you can also expect it to enhance your athletic performance. Never a bad thing, even if your brand of athleticism is limited to leisurely walks around the neighborhood and occasional gardening.
Stretching for a few minutes after you’ve exercised will only do your body more good. It loosens muscles, which once again decreases the risk of injury. It eliminates lactic acid, a chemical produced by the body when it converts carbohydrates into energy, and which contributes to the sensations of pain and fatigue that many athletes are all too familiar with. Stretching also helps your mind and body both relax – perfect for when you’re trying to wind down from a high-octane workout.
So sorry, Jack, but stretching deserves a place in everyone’s exercise regimen. It doesn’t matter if you’re a strongman preparing to bench 1,350 pounds, an ultramarathon runner readying their body for a 350-mile odyssey, or a 99-year-old grandma who’s warming up to throw tennis balls to an enthusiastic dog. Stretching can only make you feel, perform and recover better!
Want to increase your flexibility before you break a sweat? Here are a few great pre-workout stretches that will warm you up. Do them in any order, it’s all good!
10-15 reps. Prepare your legs and glutes for action! Stand so your feet are hip-width apart. Keep your chest lifted as you squat down, bending your knees and drawing your hips back like you’re preparing to sit down. Keep your core tight for added stability – another muscle group that benefits from squats.
Forward leg swings
10-15 reps. Show your quads and hip flexors some love! Place your left hand against a wall or on the back of a chair. Stand straight and tall as you lift your right leg off the floor. Swing your left leg forward and back at 90° angles (or less, if you don’t bend that way). Switch hands and repeat with your left leg to complete a rep.
Side leg swings
10-15 reps. Your thigh muscles want in on the action, too. Place your left hand against a wall or on the back of a chair. Stand tall and lift your right leg off the floor. Swing it to the left, and then across your body’s midline. Switch hands and repeat with your left leg to complete a rep.
10-12 reps. Just like you’re in the Army! This chest and shoulder exercise is remarkably effective for one that only uses bodyweight. Place your hands closer to one another for a pushup that targets the upper chest, triceps and deltoids. Pivot on your knees instead of your feet for an easier push-up.
10-12 reps. Sounds scary, but does wonders for your lower back and hip flexors. Lie face down on the floor with your arms out to your sides (just like a T-posing Zoomer). Bend your right knee to a 90° angle so the sole of your foot faces the ceiling, and twist your body until your right foot meets the outside of your left hip. Hold for two seconds, recenter, and repeat with the other leg to complete a rep.
10-12 reps. Keep your thighs strong! Stand with your feet at hip-width and your knees bent slightly. Step out with your left foot until you feel your inner thigh begin to stretch. Hold for two seconds, return to your original stance, and repeat with your right foot to complete a rep.
10-15 reps. Arm circles strengthen … your arms! Stand straight with your feet at hip-width. Extend your arms outward at 90° angles. Circle them 15 times clockwise, and then 15 times counterclockwise to complete one rep.
Restoring your body to its best condition after exercise is easy with just a few bodyweight exercises. Once again, the order in which you complete these stretches is up to you. Simply hold each one for 30 to 60 seconds and move on to the next. (Pro tip: use a yoga mat!)
Quadruped thoracic rotation
Start on all fours, with your hands under your shoulders, your knees beneath your hips, and your back flat. Place your left hand on the back of your head so your elbow sticks outward. Slowly rotate your head and shoulder toward your right hand, and then reverse the motion until your elbow points straight upward. Hold for a few seconds until returning to the starting position. Repeat for the other side.
Lying pec stretch
Lie with your stomach on the floor and your arms in a T-pose. Push off the ground with your left hand, using your left knee to balance as you roll to the right. You will feel a burn in your pectoral muscles when you do this stretch correctly. Return to starting position and repeat for the other side.
Lunge with spinal twist
Stand with your feet together. Step forward with your left foot, and then lunge by bending your left knee (while keeping your right leg straight behind you). You’ll feel your right thigh stretch. Now place your right hand on the floor and twist your body to the left, extending your left arm upward in the process. Repeat for the other side.
Not the animal we most frequently associate with athleticism, but great for the muscles in your shoulders, hips, glutes and quadriceps nonetheless. Simply stand up straight with your arms to your sides, bend at the waist and knees until you can place your hands against the floor, and use your hands to “walk” your upper body forward (without moving your feet out of starting position).
Kneel on the ground so your feet are behind you. Sit back on your heels and fold your upper body forward so your belly rests against your thighs. Extend your arms outward and place your forehead on the ground. Your back and shoulders will especially benefit from this stretch.
This method of exercise offers benefits such as improved flexibility, increased strength, enhanced core stabilization, rehabilitation for injuries, and mental well-being. The gyrotonic method uses specialized equipment, to guide and challenge the user. This exercise can be a valuable addition to your fitness routine, both before and after workout sessions.
Are you recovering from a physical injury – or just looking for an expert to help you achieve your best mobility and flexibility? Then we welcome you to contact Acucare Physical Therapy in Sioux Falls, SD today for sports therapy, health therapy, orthopedic therapy or geriatric physical therapy!