We all know how important it is to stretch after a workout, but let’s be real, just navigating daily life is enough to get us all tight and wound up. Work in an office? On your feet all day? Train hard? Chasing your tail and don’t have time for all this stretching business? If you answered yes to any of those, trust us, we feel you. Stretching is often a neglected afterthought, but it doesn’t have to be a huge chore or a huge time-guzzler! We asked our in-house exercise scientist Brooke MacDonald to spill the beans on getting flexi and got her to break down her top five stretches to loosen up the whole body. The best part? You can do them in just five minutes!
1. Downward dog
This is my go-to stretch after any form of workout as it aids in the cooling down process of the body but also because it serves as an antidote to all the times we spend hunched over our desks! The movement elongates the spine and relives tension through the back and the head, as well as forces the heart rate and breath to slow down. It requires the chest wall and shoulders to open anteriorly, which are so often rounded and hunched whilst we drive or sit at a desk. This stretch also improves flexibility in the hamstrings, calves and the shoulders and aids in relieving any lower back pain by taking gravity’s pressure off the spinal segments.
This stretch really is a must, because not only does it stretch majority of the lower limb, it also strengthens a lot of the smaller stabilising muscles in the foot. Having a strong stable foot can greatly protect you from injury, especially when walking, running or doing agility work where you are transferring weight quickly!
How to do it:
• Start on all fours, with hands directly below your shoulders and knees below your hips
• Tuck your toes under and lift your knees off the floor whilst pushing the hips high, up to the ceiling, creating an A frame posture.
• Try to push the heels down to the floor whilst keeping the legs straight, or maintain a slight bend in the knee if the stretch is too much.
• Whilst spreading your fingers, push into your palms and pull your chest towards your spine and draw the shoulder blades down.
• Keep your head neutral and in line with the arms and do not let it hang. Hold for one minute.
2. Sitting spinal twist
During all forms of exercise, our lower back, trunk and pelvis are always working to stabilise us. These are also common sites of dysfunction and pain, so it is imperative we release this during our end of workout stretch. This stretch allows release through a number or muscles in this area. Your abdominal muscles, lower back muscles, pelvic floor muscles and spinal and sacral joints are all targeted when twisting through the spine. Along with increasing range of motion and flexibility through the hips and spine, this movement will also lengthen and help align the spine, whilst giving a nice pull through our glutes!
How to do it:
• Start sitting upright with both legs in front of you, straight out together on the floor.
• Bend one leg and cross it over the other leg, keeping it bent and place the foot on the floor.
• Twist the torso and place the opposite elbow beside the bent knee and draw the twist towards that bent knee
• Keep a normal consistent breath while pushing the body into the twist and allow the head to stay in line and neutral.
• Swap sides repeating the steps above using the opposite leg. Do 30 seconds on each side.
3. Lying glute (piriformis) stretch
Our glute muscles take a hit all day, every day, whether we are exercising or working. They are a huge muscle group that we rely on without them even having a say! Not only do they provide us with a large amount of power and support when we are running, jumping or squatting, but they also are greatly affected when we are sitting. Our glutes, along with our piriformis, can become tight when sitting or slouching in a chair with our hips rotated posteriorly. This can create an imbalance throughout the entire system causing strain on our lower back and tight hips. This lying stretch improves flexibility of the hips and the glutes, it also allows a slight pull on the lower back. By concentrating on the form of this movement, you will help improve the alignment of the hip and the knee, which helps with the external rotation of the hips.
How to do it:
• Start by lying on the ground in a supine position (face up) and bend both knees up keeping both feet on the ground next to each other.
• Place your right ankle over the left knee keeping the leg at 90 degrees
• Lift your left foot off the ground and draw both legs towards the chest.
• Wrap your hands around the left hamstring and pull the leg towards your chest.
• Keep the head and the neck relaxed on the ground. Hold it for 30 seconds, and then swap legs.
4. Hip flexor stretch
In nearly every workout routine, you will found that most movements are putting your hips in the exact same partially bent position, over and over again. When running, we are repeatedly moving from full hip extension to partial flexion. When cycling, they are flexed for the majority of the time, and when squatting or bending, they are constantly going through this movement. This causes overdeveloped hip flexors and extreme tightness, which can refer to lower back pain, inactive glutes, hip pain and postural problems.
This is why this stretch is something we need to be doing every day! Both the hip flexors and also the quadriceps improve in flexibility with this move. It also releases the psoas muscles, which is part of the hip flexor group which can be the cause of lower back tightness.
How to do it:
• Step into a lunge position and drop the back knee onto the floor so that both knees are at 90 degrees.
• Keep the front knee directly over the heel and the back knee directly under the hip.
• Tilt your pelvis forward and up (think about bringing your tail bone forward and up to your ribs).
• To feel more of the stretch, reach your hand on the side of the body with the knee bent on the ground up high.
• Keep the pelvis in line and facing forward whilst engaging the glutes.
• Swap sides. Do 30 seconds on each side.
5. Pec stretch
This stretch is something I do multiple times throughout the day, as well as at the end of every single workout. Most of us, living in this age of cars and computers as we do, already have shortened chest (pectoral) muscles due to all the hours that our arms are in front of us. Then we add our boxing, Pilates, push ups and weights into the mix, and these muscle are being contracted in the same way. Opening up the chest allows the lungs to expand forcing larger, deeper breathes, improves the posture of our spine and alignment of our back muscles and also releases tension from the neck. Even if you have just done lower body workout, the upper body has done a lot to stabilise your posture and torso to maintain control. It needs this stretch!
How to do it:
• Standing up tall next to a wall or a corner of a door, bend your arms to 90 degrees keeping your elbow in line with your shoulder.
• Place your forearm up against the surface of the wall or door and turn the body gently away from the arm, feeling a pull through the arm pit and the chest.
• You can do one arm at a time of it you are in a door way place both forearms up at the same time and lean forward to feel the pull. Do 30 seconds on each side.
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