To be at the top of your sport and fitness level, there are several areas to consider from nutrition and training to rest, supplementation, mobility and flexibility. Although these are all important, one area that is often overlooked, especially by new and young athletes is flexibility. Not to be confused with mobility, flexibility refers to the range of motion of our muscles and mobility refers to our ability to move freely without stressing our body and joints. Both are reliant on each other, so the more we can improve one, the more we can improve the other.
With increased flexibility, we can improve much more than just performance. Improved flexibility reduces our chance of injury, it releases tension in our muscles and joints, it improves posture which minimizes stress and maximizes the strength of joints. Whichever sport you’re in, improved flexibility will help you perform better. Spending as little as ten minutes a day can make a big difference.
Below are five stretches you can start using today to work on your flexibility. Work on each stretch for two minutes each.
Sit on the floor with both legs stretched out in front of you. Bend your right leg and bring your foot closer to your left thigh until the sole of your right foot touches your inner left thigh and the heel of your right foot touches your left groin. Do this as best you can without excessive strain. You left leg should remain in the straight position with your toes pointed upward.
Take a deep breath and take your arms above the head in line with your ears. Exhale slowly and bend the body forward over your straight leg. Let your hands go forward and grab your left foot by your toes or the middle of your foot. Pull your trunk forward until your forehead touches the knee of your straight leg. Remain in this position for as long as you are comfortable. As you hold the position make sure you breathe. To release the position, raise your trunk to the upright sitting position. Inhale while coming back to the sitting pose. Release the right leg and stretch it in front of you to come back to the starting position. Repeat the position with the other leg.
Begin on your hands and knees. Align your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Stretch your elbows and relax your upper back. Spread your fingers wide and press firmly through your palms and knuckles. Distribute your weight evenly across your hands.
Exhale as you tuck y our toes and lift your knees off the floor. Reach your pelvis up toward the ceiling and then draw your sit bones toward the wall behind you. Gently begin to straighten your legs, but do not lock your knees. Bring your body into the shape of an “A.” Imagine your hips and thighs being pulled backward from the top of your thighs. Do not walk your feet closer to your hands – keep the extension on your whole body. Press the floor away from you as you lift through your pelvis. As you lengthen your spine, lift your sit bones up toward the ceiling. Then press down equally through your heels and the palms of your hands.
Start by standing with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Turn to the left and step your feet wide apart, about four to five feet apart. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees so your toes point to the top of the mat. Pivot your left foot inward at a 45-degree angle. Align your front heel with the arch of your back foot. Your pelvis and torso should face the same direction as your right toe is pointing. Bend your right knee over your right ankle so your shin is perpendicular to the floor. Press your weight through your left heel. Inhale and raise your arms overhead. This is Warrior Pose.
Bring your palms together at your chest in prayer position. Exhale and rotate your torso to the right. Lean your torso toward your front thigh and bring your left elbow to the outer side of your right thigh. Press your upper left arm against your thigh, then draw in your right shoulder blade to turn your chest to the right.
Keep your body hugging tightly to the center line of your body. Work to keep your back heel, hips, spine and head in one straight line. Turn your gaze to the ceiling. Extend through the crown of your head, lengthening your upper body. Draw your shoulder blades firmly into your upper back. Lengthen your spine further on your inhalations and twist deeper on your exhalations.
Hold this pose for up to one minute, then inhale and return to Warrior Pose, reaching both arms overhead. Then exhale and bring both hands to the mat and come into Downward Dog. Then step your left leg forward between your hands and repeat the pose for the same amount of time on the opposite side.
Crescent Moon Lunge
To start, kneel on your mat with your knees hip width apart. Be sure to keep your back straight. Step forward with your right foot. Position yourself so that your foot is extended slightly past your knee and your upper leg is parallel to the floor. The lower part of your back leg should be resting on the floor and your foot should be flexed so that your toes are resting on the ground. (To increase the stretch in your hip, bend more on your right knee.)
Raise both arms and hook your thumbs together. As you raise your arms above your head, pull your thumbs slightly apart to create pressure between your two hands. Raise your back knee. Your weight should now be equally divided between the front and back legs in a lunge position. Remember to keep your chest bone low, and avoid arching your back. Look upward and if you can backward while you stretch your arms up and apart. Hold this pose for several breaths, then release and repeat with the other leg forward.
Like the Janu Sirsasana, start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, keeping your spine erect and toes flexed toward you. Breathing in, raise both arms above your head and stretch up. Breathing out, bend forward from the hip joints with your chin moving toward the toes. Keep your spine erect focusing on moving forwards toward your toes, rather than down toward your knees.
Place your hands on your legs as far down them as they will reach without forcing them. If you can, take hold of your toes and pull on them to help you go forward. Breathing in, lift your head slightly and lengthen your spine. Breathing out, gently move your navel toward your knees. Repeat this movement two or three times.
Then, drop your head down and breathe deeply for 20-60 seconds. Stretch your arms out in front of you. Breathing in, with the strength of your arms, come back up to the sitting position. Breathe out and lower your arms.
There you have five stretches you can start using today to improve flexibility. Keep in mind, these are only five stretches. There are hundreds if not thousands of stretches you can us to build your own custom stretching routine to fit your personal needs.
If you are new to stretching, the routine above will get you started with a solid base to get you in the habit of stretching is a little as ten minutes a day. As you get accustomed to stretching, you can always add to this base.
If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below.
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