The Right Way to Stretch Before (and After) a Workout
The best way to prepare for a bout of exercise, or recover from a workout, is to stretch. Stretching has numerous benefits — it loosens us up, primes our joints and ligaments for action, and will get your heart rate and blood pumping. It can also help you work on your flexibility and mobility, while helping you ward off injury at the same time.
All told, there’s really no reason not to spend five or 10 minutes stretching before you hit the gym. And even after — as we’ve written about previously. In short, a cool-down period can be just as important as a warm-up period.
For the uninitiated, trying to put together a short, succinct, and effective stretching routine can be confusing. But we’re here to help.
Below, you can find a short video that will run you through an example of an effective stretching routine, for both beginning and ending your workouts. These are relatively simple moves and stretches, and shouldn’t be too difficult for anyone to pull off. But adding this simple routine to your workout regimen should pay off in the end, and help keep you injury-free.
Check out the video, and read on to see the details on each individual stretch on the following pages.
To get your blood pumping, few things are more effective and easier to do than some jumping jacks. It may have been a long time since you’ve done some jumping jacks (high school gym class, perhaps?) but give them a shot — the jumping and flailing around is actually more intensive than you might remember. Jumping jacks should help loosen you up, and get your heart rate up.
For the rest of our simple step-by-step guide, continue to page two.
A fairly simple move, twisting and pivoting will get the muscles in your core activated. What you’re basically going to do is plant your feet, and twist your upper body around. This movement should get your abs and obliques warmed-up, and stretch things out a bit. If you want to add a little more difficulty to the mix, you can do it while holding a dumbbell or kettlebell. Just make sure you’re focusing on warming up.
Next up, we’re going to do some hitchhikers. This is a fairly simple move as well, so just get into a hitchhiker stance, and pull your arms back behind your core. You’re essentially going to look and feel like you’re pushing your chest out — like the girl from Titanic at the front of the boat. This will stretch out your chest and shoulders, as well as the muscle groups in your back.
You may not be familiar with egoscue curls, but they can be an invaluable stretch to add to your routine. They’re also called standing elbow curls, and are a pretty simple stretch. Stand with your hands on your head and elbows out, as seen above, and bring your elbows together in front of your face. Again, this is working your arms, chest, back, and shoulders.
It doesn’t get much easier than the knee pull. Just grab your leg — one hand on your knee, on one on your shin — and lift your leg toward your chest. This movement should stretch your quads and glutes, and is perfect if you plan on hitting the squat rack, or doing some deadlifts.
Next, try the pigeon pull. It’s named as such, because you’ll kind of look like a pigeon. But don’t worry — it’s effective as well.
Stand up straight, and bring your leg up toward your waist. You’ll want you knee to go out toward your side, and pick up your ankle with your hands. Then, simply lift your ankle toward your chest. You’ll feel the stretch as you do it through your legs and waist region. Just make sure you don’t fall over.
Perhaps the most simple stretch you can do is the quad pullback. Stand on one leg, grab your foot with one hand, and pull it behind you, so that your foot touches your butt. You’ll want to pull enough that your knee goes behind the leg that you are standing on. You’ll feel this one in your quad.
After the quad pullback, you should be ready to start your workout. The following stretches should be done after you’ve completed your routine.
To start your cool down, running in place is a great way to decrease your heart rate, and slow your body’s systems down. Just make sure you’re doing it in a way that will avoid injury (land on the balls of your feet), and that you’re using your arms.
Next, attempt a hamstring bend. Start off by reaching your hands up toward the ceiling, and then diving down and grabbing your toes. Do your best to keep your legs as straight as you can — which we all know can be difficult, especially for men. This should give you a good, full-body stretch.
Now, drop to the floor for a “catdog.” You may need to watch the video a couple of times to get the movement down, but essentially, you’re going to arch your back like a cat, while on all-fours on the floor, and then stretch your neck out and look at the ceiling. So, inhale, and bring your chin to your chest. Then exhale, and push your head out toward the sky.
Finally, to finish things off, a classic yoga move is in order. The downward dog, to be exact.
Start on all fours, with both your feet and hands flat on the floor, as seen above. Then bend your legs, and cycle your heels back and forth (again, watching the video can help immensely with nailing this down). You’ll want to make sure your butt stays up in the air, pointed toward the ceiling, and that you maintain form. It’s a bit awkward, but once you’re done, you’ll feel like a million bucks.
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