Everyone knows that regular exercise is a necessary component for staying healthy and in shape. An essential aspect of proper fitness is caring for your body is maintaining a well-balanced diet, getting plenty of rest and, believe it or not, properly stretching. Stretching improves flexibility, increases circulation and relieves tension, all of which are highly important. The following are five important stretches that should be a regular part of your fitness routine.
1. Downward Facing Dog
Begin on your hands and knees. Your knees should be shoulder width apart, as should your hands. Take an even breath and lift your knees off the ground, “pressing” your hips towards the ceiling. Make sure you keep your head between your arms with the crown of your head lined up neatly with your spine. Your body and the ground should be working together to make a nice triangle. Remember to take slow, deep and even breaths as you hold this pose. This gently but effectively stretches your calves, hamstrings, lower back and cervical (neck) spine all at once.
2. Reclining Spinal Twist
This simple exercise stretches the lower back and spinal area, loosens up the hips and has the added benefit of stimulating the digestive system. Lie on your back with your feet planted firmly on the ground, with your knees together and your arms spread out from your body. Slowly rotate your knees to one side and hold for thirty seconds. Keep your breathing even and do not be surprised if there is some “snap-crackle-and-pop” going on in your back. Repeat on the opposite side.
3. Posterior Capsular Stretch
Shoulder injuries, particularly rotator cuff injuries, are very common in sports and this stretch is ideal for preventing such injuries. Begin by lying on the side you are stretching. It is very important that you bring the shoulder you are lying-on back so that your shoulder-blade is flat on your back. Positioning is important for this stretch because without proper alignment of the shoulder, the stretch is not effective. While lying on the shoulder, bring the hand up in front of your face as if you were singing into a microphone. Using your free hand, gently apply counter pressure on your “microphone” hand, pressing it towards your knees. The key here is even, smooth and above all, gentle pressure. There should be no pain at all, just a pulling sensation in the shoulder and across the shoulder blade.
4. Leg Reach Bridge
The leg reach bridge is an excellent way to stretch your legs, glutes, hip flexors, abdominals and chest all at once. Lie on your back, arms extended to the sides, knees up, feet evenly planted about shoulder length apart, right beside your bum. Extend your right leg upwards with your toes reaching for the ceiling and lift your pelvis off the ground until your body forms a diagonal line, starting at the tip of your toes and ending with the crown of your head. Be sure to do this on both sides.
5. Butterfly Stretch
This particular stretch is a favorite because it works out the kinks in the lower back at the same time as glutes, adductors and hamstrings. The increased flexibility and stabilization of the pelvis provided by this routine stretch will improve all of your fitness activities. Sit on the ground with the bottoms of your feet pressed together. Using your hands to press your feet together, lean your upper body as far forward over your feet as you can. Do not over-work your legs. Hold this position for two minutes and then slowly release.
Finally, many fitness experts encourage everyone to make routine stretching a part of their daily lifestyle.