Move of the Week: Flex Appeal

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Stretching. Who skips it before a workout? Raise your hand! *raising mine slightly in embarrassment*.

I'm really bad at not stretching before working out, and I usually suffer the consequences the next day.

Stretching is important because it increases flexibility, and flexibility reduces the risk of injury, decreases muscle soreness, and increases muscle performance in the long run (aka aging better). See why you should stretch?

Researcher Arnold Nelson, Ph.D., coauthor of Stretching Anatomy (Human Kinetics), compiled these six stretches for SELF magazine. "If you increase your joint range of motion, exercising will seem less challenging," Nelson says.

The plan Rev your heart with at least three minutes of cardio before you bend. Then perform the exercises, holding each for 30 seconds. Pause 15 seconds between moves; repeat sequence two or three times. You'll need an armless chair and a hip-height table. For the best flex, run through the 15-minute routine three times a week.

Technique tips Ease into each stretch; no bouncing because it signals to muscles to contract rather than extend. When you feel a mild strain, pause. Breathe deeply as you hold the position.

The Leaning Stretch: Sit on floor, legs extended. Bend left knee; place left foot flat against right inner thigh. Put left hand on floor to left of left thigh; grasp right toes with right hand, keeping back straight. Pull toes toward you (as shown). Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat. Stretches butt, hamstrings, calves.

Balanced Bend: Stand with left side near end of table. Balance on right leg; extend left leg onto table (as shown). With legs straight, bend forward as far as you can; reach through legs; grasp back of thighs. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs; repeat. Stretches butt, hamstrings, inner thighs.

Figure Four: Stand facing table. Balance on left leg and place right leg, knee bent and calf flat, on table, hands on either side (as shown). Keeping calf flat on table, lower torso toward right leg. Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs; repeat. Stretches butt, hips.

Tush Push: Stand with back to table. Balance on right leg, knee soft; bend left knee and place top of foot on table, hands flat 6 to 12 inches behind butt, fingers facing away. Move torso back slowly until butt touches heel of left foot; maintain that contact as you push hips forward, arch your back and roll shoulders down and back (as shown). Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs; repeat. Stretches hips, thighs.

Real Kneel: Stand facing side of armless chair, about 12 inches away. Keeping right leg straight, place bent left leg on seat of chair and left hand on chair back for support. Lean forward so body stays in alignment from ear to heel (as shown). Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat. Stretches calves.

Jackknife: Lie faceup; bend left knee and bring it toward chest. Keeping right leg straight, foot flexed, grasp left knee with both hands and pull it toward chest as far as you can (as shown). Hold for 30 seconds. Switch sides; repeat. Stretches butt, thighs.

Do you stretch before working out?  

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