It's amazing what you can accomplish on short notice when you feel inspired. If you're anxious to make some serious flexibility gains -- and you've set a 30-day deadline for yourself to get the job done -- you just need a plan, a personal commitment and a big dose of diligence. Carve out just 15 to 20 minutes a day for gentle stretching and, after a month's time, you'll discover you're more flexible than you've been in years.
Your quads -- those big muscles on the fronts of your thighs -- are the workhorses of your legs. But it's the muscles at the back of your legs -- your hamstrings and calves -- that tend to shorten with inactivity. Stretching those posterior leg muscles is key to boosting flexibility. Standing with your feet together or hip-width apart, start bending slowly forward from your hips. Place your hands on the fronts of your legs and slide them down the legs as you continue hinging forward. When you've gone as far as you can, spend up to 30 seconds breathing normally and getting comfortable with the stretch. Then slowly -- with a flat back -- begin to straighten to a standing position. Repeat the exercise three times. Aim to increase the stretch of the hamstrings and calf muscles slowly, incrementally, every day. Never push past normal discomfort into the pain zone.
Stretching your middle torso, specifically the waist area, has added benefits beyond flexibility. A strong, flexible core helps protect your back from injury and contributes to proper posture. To stretch your waist, begin in a standing position with your feet hip-width apart. Place you left hand on your waist and extend your right arm overhead. Keeping your shoulders and hips square to the front, exhale and begin slowly hinging your torso to the left. As you bend, keep your right hand directly over your head. Bend only as far as you're able without feeling any pain; then, as you inhale, return to your initial standing position. Repeat on the right side. Exhale and bend your torso to the right. Inhale and return to an upright position. Repeat the sequence three times, building up to 20 over a period of several weeks.
Achieving and maintaining a flexible back can mitigate years of pent-up stress and poor posture. Lower yourself to the floor and position yourself on your hands and knees. Your toes can be flexed or relaxed against the floor. Inhale. As you breathe out, gently round your back upward, draw your abdomen toward your spine, relax your neck and look down at the floor. Keeping your arms straight and your hands firmly planted on the floor, exhale and slowly hollow your back. As you do so, gradually raise your head until you're looking at the ceiling. Repeat the sequence three times, working up to 20 over the course of a month.
Shouldering the Burden
Your shoulders can tighten as a result of sitting hunched over your work desk for hours at a time. To loosen up the backs of your shoulders, extend your arms in front of you, parallel to the floor. Place your left elbow on top of your right elbow. From this position, raise your forearms until they are perpendicular to the floor. With your arms at shoulder-height, grasp the fingers of both hands together. Hold the stretch position for 10 seconds. Relax your arms briefly and repeat the stretch with your right elbow on top of your left.
To open the fronts of your shoulders, stand with your feet hip-width apart and clasp your hands behind you. Keeping your shoulders down, slowly raise your arms up and away from your body. Go only as far as you comfortably can, then release your hands and shake out your arms. Alternate the two shoulder stretches, working up to 10 times over the course of several weeks.