Friday, December 30, 2011

My 5 Favorite Lower Body Stretches

One of my new year's resolutions is to stretch more so I thought I would share some of my favorite stretches with you. While there are different opinions as to whether you should stretch before or after exercise, most experts recommend stretching after exercise. You should try to incorporate stretching into your weekly workout routine as stretching can increase your flexibility, resulting in improved performance and decreased risk of injury.

The five stretches below all are glute/hip related and if you read my recent post you'll know why I focus on this area. Of course, there are many more stretches you can do but these are just some of my favorites. If any of the stretches below do not feel comfortable or are painful, please refrain from doing them.

Before you start, here are some general guidelines for safe stretching:
  • Never stretch cold muscles; warm up for at least 5-10 minutes or wait until after your workout to begin your stretching routine.
  • Do not bounce while stretching as you can injure yourself by creating small tears in the muscle. Instead, move slowly into a stretch, hold the stretch for approximately 30 seconds, and then switch sides and repeat.
  • Do not over-stretch. You want to feel a slight pull/tightness in the muscle when stretching but never pain. As the muscle relaxes and you no longer feel a tightness, you can stretch a bit further until you feel that same tightness again.

1. Seated Gluteal Stretch:
The gluteal muscles are a set of three muscles that make up your buttocks. They serve to extend and rotate your hip outward, in addition to extending your trunk.
    1. Begin seated with both legs extended out. 
    2. Bend one leg up and cross your foot over your other leg placing your foot on the ground.
    3. Twist your body towards the leg that is bent and use your opposite arm to press your leg towards your chest feeling a slight stretch.
    4. Maintain good posture by keeping your back straight.
    5. Hold for approximately 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.


2. Crossover Stretch: The crossover stretch will help to release your hips, iliotibial (IT) band and lower back.
    1. Lie down with your legs straight and your arms extended out to the side.
    2. Bend one knee up towards your chest and place your opposite hand on your knee.
    3. Slowly pull your knee across your body towards the ground until you feel a slight stretch.
    4. Hold for approximately 15-30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.


3. Piriformis Stretch: The piriformis muscle is one of the muscles that make up your buttocks and helps to rotate your hip outward.
    1. Lie down on your back with both knees bent.
    2. Cross one leg across the other resting your ankle just above your knee.
    3. Lift your bottom leg off of the ground and grab underneath your knee with both hands.
    4. Slowly pull your leg towards your chest until you feel a slight stretch.
    5. Hold for approximately 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.


4. Pigeon Hip Stretch: The pigeon stretch will help to release your hips- in particular, the gluteus maximus, minimus, and the piriformis muscles.
    1. Kneel down on all fours and bring one leg forward with your knee bent in between your arms.
    2. Extend your opposite leg out behind you and slowly press your front hip down until you feel a slight stretch.
    3. Maintain good posture by keeping your back straight.
    4. For a deeper stretch, slowly lean forward onto your forearms.
    5. Hold for approximately 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.


5. Hip Flexor Stretch: The hip flexors are a group of muscles that serve to bend at the hip and lift your knees up.
    1. Kneel down with one leg in front of you with your knee bent.
    2. Slowly lean forward with your hips until you feel a slight stretch.
    3. Maintain good posture by tightening your stomach muscles and keeping your back straight.
    4. Hold for approximately 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.

Hope this helps motivate you all to stretch a bit more!

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