Welcome to February lovelies! As I mentioned in my last post, my plan for this year is to set one specific goal each month that has to do with something I want to work on in my health and fitness journey. Last month, I really wanted to re-dedicate myself to betting my nutrition. I am happy to report I am back to cooking and meal-prepping more, drinking my superfood shake each and every day and really paying attention to limiting processed and prepackaged foods a lot more than I was. So on to February’s goal…this month l I really want to work on my flexibility! Man, this is a tough one for me. I have been saying I am going to stretch more and do more flexibility work for like a year now but I am not going to lie, I have not been at all consistent with it, like at all. Soooo that being said, February = Flexibility Awareness Month! I am re-committing to this very important goal of mine because let’s face it, I am not getting any younger or more limber. In fact, just the opposite unfortunately, so consistently stretching is only becoming more and more imperative to my overall health.
It seems to me that flexibility is somewhat overlooked and undervalued when it comes to a well-rounded health and fitness plan. Most people, myself included, seem to be focused solely on strength training and/or cardiovascular training. While I personally strive to get a good mix of both of those things, I am definitely guilty of not placing enough emphasis on the importance to stretching everyday. Even though the majority of my workouts come from the amazing programs I follow and do right from my living room, I am somewhat ashamed to say that I often fast forward through either the warm up or cool down aspects of each workout even though they are included in each day’s routine. I do make sure to take part in the days where either Pilates or Yoga are on the schedule and very much look forward to and enjoy those days, but I don’t do enough flexibility work outside of that. So other than just getting older and less nimble I wanted to take a second to remind myself and any of you out there who are lazy stretchers as well why this is so important for us to starting doing on a regular basis. Consistently stretching and becoming more flexible will:
- Prevent Injuries! – This is a big one you guys. Consistently stretching helps to improve the range of motion of your joints and the higher the range the less stress is put on them when exerting pressure on them during a workout. The less strain on your muscles the less chance you will actually strain one of them. And we all know how painful and sidelining a strained muscle can be. Anyone ever strain a muscle in your back? OUCH to say the least! Happened to me one time because I didn’t stretch before a rock climbing workout and I basically couldn’t stand up for two days! If I had taken the time to stretch before jumping on the wall I would be willing to be it wouldn’t have happened or at least it wouldn’t have been so debilitating.
- Promote Circulation – Stretching does wonders for keeping your blood flowing well. Doing some low-impact, low-intensity stretching can get your heart rate and body temperature up which promotes a healthy blood flow. Healthy circulation is super important for getting oxygen to all your vital organs helping them to function properly. Healthy blood circulation is also crucial for helping the body remove waste which is obviously vital for good health!!
- Improve Posture – This is especially important to all of us who sit at a desk for hours on end! In this day and age where we all seem to be hunched over a screen for a large part of each day, being aware of our posture and working on it whenever we can is really important. Stretching is a great way to take some time out each day and work on lengthening and elongating our spines. Being hunched over for too long can create tight muscles especially in the mid to lower back and chest areas. This can lead to not only poor posture but stiffness and even pain. Consistently stretching these areas as well as strengthening your core muscles can elevate back pain as well as lead to much better posture.
- Decrease Stress – And who doesn’t need some help in this area?!? I know I am always looking for ways to decrease the amount of stress I am feeling on any given day. Stress is so bad for our health, not only out mental health but also our physical health. Taking ten or so minutes out of my day to stretch my tense muscles and really focus on my breathing does wonders for my mental state. Stretching on a regular basis has been shown to reduce overall tension and even lessen feelings of anxiety and depression. Besides all the physical benefits that you will be getting with a good stretching session, feeling calmer and more relaxed at the end of it is almost like the cherry on top!
Now that we know why stretching consistently is so important, I wanted to share a few of the basic stretches that I have started to incorporate into my daily health and fitness routine. It is really important to hit the major muscle groups when thinking about what and how to stretch. Although we have tons and tons of different muscles all over our bodies, if you target the major ones you maximize your efforts and be doing your body a true service. Some examples of the major groups to aim for are your leg muscles such as your calves, hamstrings and quads. Your hip flexors are also a really good group to target as they do a lot for your strength, stability and athletic performance. As far as your upper body goes, focusing on your neck, shoulders and upper back as targets will do wonders for to ward off pain, help with pain relief if you already have it and as I mentioned before will go a long way in improving and maintaining proper posture. Something to keep in mind…. stretching shouldn’t hurt! You should feel some resistance and even tension but not pain!! Ok so now let’s actually get to it! See below for five of my favorite beginners stretches:
- Butterfly Stretch – This is a great beginner stretch because it is easy to do and targets several muscle groups at the same time! All this move requires is for you to sit on the floor, bring the soles of your feet together and slowly bend at the waist brining your chest as far down to the floor as possible. Now when I first began doing this stretch on a regular basis, I wasn’t able to bend over very far so a great way to ease into it is instead of bending over just simply press your knees down to the floor with your hands and hold for anywhere from 15-30 seconds then repeat for 3 rounds while sitting up as straight as you can. As you progress and get a little more flexible, you can then start to incorporate the bending at the waist for an even deeper stretch. As I mentioned, this stretch is really effective because it targets your glutes, lower back and thighs all at once!
- Cat and Cow Stretch – This one feels amazing on your back and is one of my faves!! You want to start in the tabletop position with your wrists directly under you shoulders and knees right under your hips. Inhale as you arch your back up toward the ceiling for the cat position. Picture a scared cat here and you will understand why this is called the cat position! Hold there for about 10 seconds and then exhale as you release. To move into the cow portion of this stretch, simply drop your stomach toward the floor as you lift your chin up toward the ceiling. Hold here for about ten seconds then repeat the whole sequence several times. Bonus! This move also helps strengthen your abs so you are not only loosening and lengthening your back muscles but also working on your core!
- Hamstring Stretch – Another one of my favorite stretches targets your hamstrings, which are the big muscles located on the back of thighs. My hamstrings are always tight so I have really made an effort to get a good stretch of these guys in daily. To target these muscles a good simple stretch can be done standing up by simply crossing one foot over the other and slowly bending down as far you can toward your toes. You want to keep your knees as straight as possible without locking them. Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds then repeat on the other side by uncrossing your feet and then re-crossing them with the opposite foot over the other this time around. Don’t forget to breathe while holding the pose!! You can also stretch your hamstrings from the seated position by sitting with your legs straight out in front of you and slowly bending forward at the waist reaching for your toes. Again, keep your knees straight but not locked. Hold for 15– 20 seconds again and then repeat 3 to 5 times as needed.
- Hip Flexor Lunge – Much like the Hamstring Stretch, this is another one that feels great and also targets multiple muscle groups. It is especially important to stretch your hip flexors if you sit the majority of the day because sitting for prolonged periods of time shortens up these muscles and can lead to major back pain. All you need to do to get a good stretch of your hips is start in the kneeling position on the floor with one knee out in front of the other one at 90 degrees. From this position you want to slowly push your pelvis forward leaning forward as far as you comfortably can. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds and repeat on the other side. You want to make sure you are keeping your back flat at all times in order to get the most out of the movement. To add a little something extra, you can also take one arm up in the air (the arm that is on the side of your body where your leg is bent backward) and do a slight side bend as well. That just opens everything up a little more!
- Seated Triceps Stretch – Equally as important as stretching your lower body, is getting a good stretch in for your upper body. While this move targets your triceps, it is also very effective for loosening and lengthening your shoulders, upper back and neck muscles. This is a super easy move that you can actually do sitting down or standing up. If you are sitting just begin by coming up to your knees while making sure to keep your back nice and flat and tall. Bring one arm up and bend at the elbow to place your hand at the top of your upper back. With the other arm, grab the hand of the bent arm and slowly pull down as far as you can to activate the stretch. Hold for 15-30 seconds and simply repeat on the other side.
Hopefully that info above is a good reminder for us all as to why stretching and flexibility is so important and just how easy it is to accomplish. For me, I know I need to work on slowing down and taking the time to actually just do it. I am often rushing from one thing to the next (like we all are) and as much as I have grown to really enjoy working out, I am still anxious to get it started and finished because my to-do list seems never ending! The beautiful thing about stretching though is you can do it just about anywhere and everywhere! It is obviously a good idea to stretch before and after a workout, but I find a good stretch first thing in the morning as well as midway through the day can also do wonders for our bodies and minds. And all you really need is about ten minutes to dedicate to becoming a more flexible, healthier human. So lets make February the month we all spend a little more time becoming more limber. Do some of the beginner stretches I mentioned above while you are sitting in front of the TV at night, take ten minutes on your lunch break and stretch it out with a co-worker, hit up a local Pilates or Yoga class or stream a flexibility workout right form your living room like I do! Just get to it and if you have any favorite stretches or discover some along the way feel free to reach out and share! Happy February y’all! 😊