Like hand-washing your knitwear and flossing each time you brush, stretches are the things you know you should do but, well, don’t. But that seems set to change.
With the fitness crowd flocking to stretch studios like Power Stretch and Lymbr in the US and, more recently, Pure Stretch in the UK as well as other dedicated classes, you could soon be ticking off stretches alongside your spin and strength sessions.
For most of us, stretches have been consigned to the cool-down – an inconvenience tacked on to the end of your ‘real’ sweat session.
But the fact is, substituting some of your cardio or strength time for some good stretches could make your body feel younger and healthier, and make your workouts more effective and sustainable.
“To increase muscle mass, the body has to produce new collagen proteins,” explains Tony Kay, professor of biomechanics at Northampton University.
“The more strength training you do, the more collagen you produce; the more collagen you have in muscles, the less elastin, and the stiffer the tissue.” In other words: all that strength work is killing your flexibility unless you do some stretches.
So WH spoke to Luke Worthington, master trainer at Third Space, London to come up with a month-long guide to a strong, lengthened physique.
Some words of wisdom before you start this four-week guide of stretches:
- Incorporate each week’s 15-minute session into every hour-long strength or cardio workout.
- Do each breathing exercise for five breaths. For the others, do eight reps, switching sides halfway through if necessary.
- Allow 30 seconds for each rep and don’t push stretches past the point of mild discomfort. You’ll need a mat and a foam roller.
STRETCHES: THE KIT
We’ve got you covered.
WOMEN’S HEALTH DOUBLE SIDED YOGA MAT
WOMEN’S HEALTH FOAM ROLLER
STRETCHES: WEEK 1
1. BELLY BREATHING
(a) Lie on your back with your legs in a tabletop position and your feet against a wall.
(b) Breathe deeply in and out, allowing the belly to rise on the inhale and lower on the exhale. Nice, isn’t it?
2. DEEP SQUAT WITH HIP LIFT
(a) Begin in a deep squat with your shoulders back and chest lifted, then tuck your fingers under your toes.
(b) Lift your hips and straighten your legs as far as you can, then reverse the movement to return to the start position.
3. ROTATING ROCK BACK
(a) Begin kneeling on your right knee, with your left leg straight out to the side and your palms on the floor directly under your shoulders.
(b) Rock your bum back towards your right heel then, without shifting your weight, open your left arm out to the left side and overhead, looking up towards the ceiling. Then reverse the movement to the start position.
4. KNEELING GLUTE MOBILISATION
(a) Begin on all fours with your feet crossed behind you.
(b) Without moving your hands, lower your bum towards your heels, then reverse to the start position. Swap legs so they cross the other way after four reps.
STRETCHES: WEEK 2
1. SHORT SEATED BELLY BREATHING
(a) Sit on the floor with your back against a wall and your knees as close as possible to your chest. Reach your arms out in front of you without allowing your back to leave the wall.
(b) Breathe into your belly, letting it expand, then exhale.
2. ROTATING DEEP SQUAT
(a) In a deep squat, tuck your fingers under your toes, keeping your chest open.
(b) Open your left arm up and overhead as far as you can, following the movement with your gaze. Then repeat on the right.
3. DYNAMIC SPIDERMAN
(a) Starting in a high plank position, pick up your right foot and place it outside your right hand, allowing your weight to rock on to it.
(b) Return to the start position then repeat on the other side.
4. DYNAMIC PIGEON
(a) Start in a high plank, then bring your right knee behind your right wrist and lower the leg and your bum to the ground.
(b) Pause for a breath, then return to the start position and repeat on the other side.
STRETCHES: WEEK 3
1. LONG SEATED BELLY BREATHING
(a) Sit on the floor with your back pressed against a wall and your legs out straight. Reach your arms out in front of you without allowing your back to leave the wall.
(b) Breathe into your belly, letting it expand, then exhale.
2. SIDE WINDMILL
(a) Lie on your left side with your left leg straight and right leg bent at a 90° angle with a foam roller underneath, and both arms out in front of you.
(b) Trace your right arm along the floor over your head and round to the right, then bring it straight off the floor and across the body, back on top of the left.
3. PIGEON TO SPIDERMAN
(a) Start in downward dog with your right foot crossed behind. Rock forwards and place your right foot by your right hand, then return to the cross-legged downward dog position.
(b) Rock forwards and bring your right knee to your right wrist, resting your right leg and bum on the ground, then return to your cross-legged downward dog. Now swap legs and repeat.
4. SHIN BOX
(a) Start sitting on your right hip with your right knee in front of you on the floor bent at a 90° angle, and your left leg behind, bent at a 90° angle.
(b) Keeping your feet where they are, bring both knees off the floor and over to turn 180° to the left, so your back leg becomes the front leg.
STRETCHES: WEEK 4
1. DEEP SQUAT BELLY BREATHING
(a) Begin holding on to a barre with your legs bent, your bum to your heels and your body folded over your knees.
(b) Breathe into your belly, allowing it to rise, then exhale. Good luck getting back up.
2. COSSACK SQUAT
(a) Begin in a deep sumo squat with your toes pointing slightly outwards if it makes it easier.
(b) With your arms out in front for balance, shift your weight to the right, keeping the right heel on the floor but straightening the left leg and allowing the left toes to lift to deepen the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
3. HIGH KNEE TO SPIDERMAN
(a) Stand on your left leg and draw your right knee into your chest with both arms. Easy now.
(b) Step forwards with your right foot, placing it next to your right hand on the floor in a spiderman position. Then open your right arm to the side and overhead, following it with your gaze, before bringing your left foot to meet your right to return to standing. Now swap sides.
4. SIDE LUNGE WITH OVERHEAD REACH
(a) Stand with your feet together, then step your right foot out to the side – angle the toes slightly outwards if it makes it easier – and lower into a deep side lunge.
(b) Bring both arms forward and overhead and hold for a breath before stepping your right foot back in. Then repeat on the other side.
Want to make the most out of your workouts? Find out how looking after your hip joints can help you take it up a notch and make sure to fit in your routine at the best time of day to exercise.