PROPER STRETCHING TECHNIQUES FOR A HEALTHIER BODY
The Fitness Institute's Michelle LeMay shares expert advice on stretching.
Stretching is an essential component of an exercise routine. However, recent studies reveal that most people do not incorporate enough stretching exercises into their fitness programs. Gold's Gym Fitness Institute Member, world-renowned Mind/Body Specialist, and author of Essential Stretch: Gentle Movements for Stress Relief, Flexibility and Overall Well-being, Michelle LeMay, shares her expert advice on the best stretching exercises to increase flexibility and decrease stress and tension.
Stretch before and after exercising. Prior to working out, it is important to assess the type of fitness activity, activity level and an understanding of which body parts are tight. In general, it is important to stretch the neck, back, torso, hips and legs. Specifically, LeMay recommends performing the following stretches before working out: Spinal Rolls (straight forward and diagonal - left and right), Standing Side Sways (alternating on each side), Standing Quad Stretches and Standing Calf Stretches. "Once your workout is complete, it is extremely important to perform cool down exercises to decrease muscle tension and increase your flexibility," explains LeMay. Sample cool down stretches include: Rocking Forward Bends, Hip Openers, Straddle Stretches and Spinal Twists.
Stretching keeps the muscles elongated. As you workout, you put physical stress on your body to strengthen your muscles. In that process your body can become tight and somewhat constricted. "Treating your body to a nurturing stretch elongates and opens up your muscles to receive oxygen and blood nutrients and to eliminate waste," proclaims LeMay. "This helps keep your muscles clean, balanced, strong and healthy."
There are many health benefits associated with stretching regularly. The benefits include: reduced stress, tension and anxiety, increased mind/body awareness, improved circulation, increased energy levels, reduced risk of injuries and improved posture, just to name a few. In addition, "Stretching makes you feel, look and move better," says LeMay.
Example warm-up stretches:
Straight Forward Spinal Roll:
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder distance apart.
- Gently bring your chin to your chest. (Relax the muscles in the back of your neck.)
- Let your shoulders collapse forward. (Relax the muscles in your upper back, shoulders, and arms.)
- Allow your knees to bend gradually as you continue to round forward. (Relax all the muscles through your back. Roll back up in the same SLOW fashion.)
Diagonal Spinal Roll:
- Stand straight with your feet shoulder distance apart, and turn your shoulders and hips to face diagonal right.
- Bring your chin to your chest. (Let go of the muscles in the back of your neck.)
- Allow your shoulders to collapse forward. (Let go the muscles go through your upper back, shoulders, and arms.
- Continue to roll down through the center of your back. (Allow your knees to bend and arms to hang loosely while you relax your entire back.)
- Roll down into your lower back. (Increase the bend in your knees if you need to. Slowly roll up in the same loose fashion.)
- Repeat to the left.
Example cool-down stretches:
Rocking Forward Bend:
- Begin sitting with your legs extended straight in front of you and relax your body forward. (Allow your knees, ankles and feet to be soft.)
- Lean to one side and place your hands and elbows on the ground beside your legs for support. Rock your body side to side (from left and right).
- Let your leg and buttocks cheek come all the way off the ground.
- Begin lying on your back with both legs extended out straight and bring your left knee into your chest. Cross your left leg across your body.
- Extend your left arm straight out to the left. (Allow your body to melt down into the ground. Calmly follow your breath down your spine.)
- Repeat to the other side.