Stretching is something we've been taught to do since we were kids in PE class! As we grow up, it's often something that we'll skip at the beginning or end of a workout and as we get older, it becomes something we crave and wish we did more of. Now, stretching doesn't take that long but for some reason we feel like we just don't have the time! When we carve out the time, often we repeat whatever it is we remember from when we were kids and realize its not quite working. This is likely because we were taught to just go through the motions instead of really activating and releasing muscles properly to get the most out of our stretch! I should mention that stretching can technically come in many forms, believe it or not a lunge or a walkout is a form of dynamic stretching. This blog post will focus on what we call in fitness land, static stretching. Static stretching is probably what you think of when you hear the word stretch. You get your body into a position and hold it there, til you feel a stretch. Today, we're going to focus on some stretches that you've probably seen before and have possibly done incorrectly, but also stretches that will bring your back, hips and legs some relief. First up....
THE GLUTE STRETCH
Have you been sitting at your desk all day? Is your lower back killing you? This stretch is your new best friend. To get technical, this stretch, when done properly, targets your Piriformis. Who's she?? Well, your Piriformis runs diagonally along your booty, and lives under the Gluteus Maximus (your large butt muscle, to be blunt). It goes from your lower spine to the top of your femur (your thigh bone). When your Piriformis gets tight from sitting too long, inactivity or overactivity, it can cause lower back pain and tightness in your Hamstrings (the muscles in the backs of your legs). In a nutshell, always start with this glute stretch.
GET INTO IT
Stand sideways with one hand on the wall. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Bend your supporting knee. Stick yo booty out and roll your shoulders back! Imagine your holding an orange between your shoulder blades and tapping your tailbone to something behind you. This Pelvic position and open chest is what gives you that deep, delicious stretch. You should feel it in the Glute of the crossed leg. To deepen the stretch you can even press the knee of the crossed leg down towards the floor.
Below is what not to do in the Glute Stretch. Notice my shoulders are rounded and my Pelvis is tucked. Holding a stretch this way will only further strain the low back and not stretch the Glute. Shoulders back, booty out!
THE HAMSTRING STRETCH
Now that we've given our Glutes some love, let's tackle the Hamstrings. The Hamstrings are a group of four muscles that run down the back of your leg. Similar to the Glutes, the Hamstrings can tighten over time due to either extreme inactivity or from over working them and not....you guessed it, stretching!! The Hamstring Stretch is also something we've seen several times throughout our lives, and it's probably looked like some variation of this:
Again, thanks to elementary school PE, for some reason this is what we have used to measure not only our Hamstring flexibility, but overall flexibility. The problem here is, yes being able to touch your toes does mean you have a certain level of flexibility, but it is not *the* way to properly stretch the backs of your legs. If you have tight Hamstrings to begin with, this will do nothing for you.
GET INTO IT
Step one foot forward and one foot back so you're standing in a split stance. Shift your hips back (like you're tapping your tailbone to something behind you), shift your weight back and bend your back knee keeping the front leg straight. This can be a mind f*ck for some so be patient with yourself and use the picture for reference. Roll your shoulders back and lift your chest. You can have one hand on the wall for balance if you need. To deepen the stretch, flex the front foot and lift the toes off the floor. If you're not feeling this stretch right away, either widen your stance or check in and make sure your booty is out and your shoulders are rolled back. Just like in the Glute Stretch, rounding the shoulders and tucking the pelvis won't do you any favors here.
THE QUAD STRETCH
Last up we have the Quad stretch. The Quads (short for Quadriceps) are a group of muscles at the front of the thigh. As human beings, we tend to be overly worked in our Quadriceps which can cause lots of stress on the knees! The Quad stretch is another you've probably seen a million times but have possibly never done correctly. Does this look familiar?
GET INTO IT
Start standing sideways with one hand on the wall for balance. Bend your outside leg and hold on to the top of your foot with your hand. Flex your foot sending your toes to the ground and heel up to the ceiling, this activates the Quad. Pull your heel towards your Glute and, here's what makes it extra special, engage your Glutes (squeeze your butt, to be blunt). By engaging your glute, you're extending your hip and deepening the stretch in your Quad. Hold this stretch for at least 30 seconds and switch sides. Be aware that sometimes when we squeeze our Glute, our knee moves forward, keep pulling your heel to your booty and try to keep the knees in line. Keep the chest lifted and belly drawn in towards the spine.
That's it! These few simple changes can take your stretching to the next level. You have the time for these so take it. Your body will thank you for it not just today, but for many years to come. Happy stretching!!