We’ve all been there: you have about 45 minutes to squeeze in a workout between meetings or before running off to your next to-do. The last thing on your mind is taking the time for stretching exercises, whether that means incorporating a dynamic routine into your warm-up or some static movements once you’re done. But if you’re skimping on your stretches—pre- or post-workout and throughout the course of a regular day in general, you could be making a major mistake.
Stretching Exercises: How to Execute
“Stretching exercises are important to give back to your body because it helps to reduce adaptive shortening of the muscle and tendon tissue that occurs from repetitive motions (such as running, climbing, squatting, etc.) or sustained positions (such as long sitting or lengthy carrying),” says Dariusz Stankiewicz, CSCS, co-founder of Body Evolved, a new hub for personal training and strength coaching in New York City. “Stretching exercises help maintain the flexibility of your muscles and range of motion in your joints, as well as increasing circulation.”
Translation: taking the time to move your body, if even just a little, can be the ultimate form of self-love. Just be smart about how you execute your stretching exercises. Before effort, research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports shows that dynamic movement can be beneficial. Post-sweat, things can be more static.
Here, Stankiewicz walks us through five essential stretches that will give your entire body the TLC it needs to move its best.
Calf and Ankle
Stand in front of a bench or chair. Bring your right foot flat on top, bending the knee. Keeping your chest up and your hip in line with your knee, rest your hands gently on the raised leg. Drive your heel down, and lunge forward slightly (you will have to bend the standing leg in to push your body weight into your stretching leg). You will feel a stretch throughout the lower leg. Focus on deep belly breathing. Hold for two minutes, or work up to it in 30-second intervals.
Start lying on your right side next to a foam roller, with your hips stacked and your right arm extended under your head for comfort. Bring your top knee on top of the foam roller in front of you to help you keep your hips stacked. Using your left arm, grab your right ankle and slowly pull backward. You’ll feel a release in your lower back and hips. Inhale through your nose, and on the exhale start to rotate your shoulders to your left, away from your front leg. Cycle through this progression 5 to 10 times until your shoulder is turned as far as possible (coming close to the ground) or until you stop making progress. Repeat on the opposite side.
Start kneeling on one knee. Place the opposite foot flat in front of you, so that the front thigh is parallel to the floor, with your foot pointed outward at two o’clock (for your right foot). Keep your trunk stable and engage your core. With rhythmic breathing, drive the knee of your open-hip leg toward your toe (facing two o’clock). Hold for three to five seconds, and then return to start. Continue this for two minutes and repeat on the opposite side.
Stand in the center of a doorway with your forearm and elbow resting on the doorframe. Drive your trunk gently forward, keeping your arms in place. Hold the full stretch for two minutes.
Quad to Hamstring
Start standing with both feet together. Kick your left foot backward toward your left butt cheek, grabbing the ankle with your left hand. Contract your abs and engage your glutes. Raise your right arm, locking out your tricep and holding a fist (creating tension throughout). Hold for 20 seconds. From there bring your left leg heel-down in front of your body. Fold at the waist and drive your hips back. Reach forward with your right hand for your your shin or foot. Hold 20 seconds and then return to the quad stretch. Perform the back and forth between quad and hamstring for three to five cycles. Repeat the drill on the opposite side.
These will also help you and your partner get ready for a first Spartan Race. Check out Spartan’s 2-for-1 Valentine’s Special.