Workouts

The Best Stretches for Your Workout

Release tension and make your workouts more effective by incorporating dynamic and static stretching moves into your regular routine. IFBB bikini pro Michelle Johnson shares her favorite ways to limber up.

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With a busy schedule, stretching is often the first thing you may want to cut from your workout routine. But you may be shortchanging your results. Stretching takes only a few minutes, but it yields lasting benefits.

“Weight training constricts muscle fibers, causing more tension. Stretching can help alleviate this tension and improve both balance and range of motion so you can move more easily,” says Michelle Johnson, an IFBB bikini pro and former yoga teacher. Stretching is also a great stress buster (and who couldn’t use some more of that right now?), especially when you pay attention to your breathing, inhaling and exhaling deeply as you hold or move through each pose. Do these exercises as indicated before and after your strength workouts to warm up and stretch out your entire body. You’ll feel the difference almost immediately and take that “ahh” feeling with you through the rest of your day.

PRE-WORKOUT: DYNAMIC STRETCHES

CAT/COW

Releases lower back, stretches hips

  • Begin on all fours with wrists directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
  • Come onto your toes to stretch the arches of your feet. Inhale and slowly arch your back down, lifting your chin and bringing the chest up and away from the belly while extending your tailbone toward the ceiling.
  • As you exhale, round your back while dropping your head toward the floor, gently contracting your abdominals.
  • Repeat the stretch for 20 reps or 20 seconds, breathing deeply and evenly as you move through the pose.

Tip: Match your breath to the even flow of the pose, exhaling as you arch up (pictured), inhaling to arch down.

CROCODILE LUNGE

Stretches hips, inner thighs, quads

  • Begin in a push-up position with legs shoulder-width apart. Step your left foot to the outside of your left hand, keeping your right leg slightly bent, or drop it to the floor if this is difficult.
  • Hold here for a few counts, feeling the stretch through the left inner thigh and hip.
  • Bring left foot back to starting position. Switch sides. Repeat for 20 reps or 20 seconds.

Tip: To make the stretch even more dynamic, walk your hands forward as you switch legs.

BRIDGE POSE

Stretches back, shoulders, arms, hips, and quads

  • Lie faceup on mat with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and arms at sides, palms down.
  • Lift your hips so your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees; as you come up, interlock your hands under your back, pressing arms down toward your ankles.
  • Keeping hips elevated, brace your abs and lift right knee toward your chest (not shown). Hold for a two-count, then lower foot to floor; repeat with left leg. That’s one rep. Do for 20 reps or 20 seconds.

POST-WORKOUT: STATIC STRETCHES

PIGEON POSE

Stretches glutes, groin, hips

  • Begin on all fours. Step your right leg forward toward right hand, bending right knee so lower leg is directly in front of hips. Slide left leg back as far as your hips will allow while still keeping hips square to the floor.
  • Stay upright on your hands while sinking your hips toward the floor. To increase the stretch, walk hands forward, flattening your torso over your front thigh. Stay here for 20 seconds, breathing evenly. Return to starting position and repeat on opposite side.

Tip: Keep hips square; don’t tilt to one side.

ASSISTED SINGLE-LEG HAMSTRING STRETCH

Stretches glutes, hamstrings; relieves tension in calves, ankles, and feet

  • Sit on the mat with your right leg extended in front of you and left knee bent comfortably out to left side. Place a resistance band or stretching strap around ball of right foot, holding ends of band in each hand.
  • Lean slightly toward right leg, folding forward from the hips and keeping your back flat. After a few seconds, deepen stretch by bending elbows outward. Hold for 20–30 seconds, breathing evenly. Switch legs and repeat.

Tip: Don’t round your back, move from your belly and keep spine straight.

BOW STRETCH

Stretches chest, abdominals, hips, groin, quads, ankles; strengthens back and improves spinal flexibility

  • Lie facedown on a mat, hands at your sides on the floor. Exhale deeply and bend your knees, bringing both heels toward your butt, grasping ankles with both hands. Keep your knees as far apart as you need to.
  • Inhale, then draw your thighs off the floor while lifting your chest, pressing shoulder blades together and creating a C shape with your back. Hold 10–30 seconds. Release slowly. Do 2–3 sets.

Tip: If the stretch is too intense, just hold one ankle at a time.

STANDING BOW STRETCH

Stretches chest, abdominals, hips, quads, groin, ankles

  • Stand tall with feet hip-distance apart, hands at your sides. Bend your left knee, holding your left foot behind you with your left hand. Inhale and stretch your right arm above your right shoulder, balancing here.
  • Bend forward slowly, hinging from the hips. Keep your right leg straight with a soft bend in the knee. Bring your chest toward the floor, keeping your spine straight and shoulders relaxed.
  • Continue to bend forward from hips, extending left leg behind you, pressing left hand and foot against each other. Reach right arm forward, gazing straight ahead past your fingertips.
  • Hold the pose for 5–15 full breaths. Lower back to start and repeat on opposite side.

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