Our strength-training and cardio routines often take a place of pride in our workout arsenal, leaving stretching as an afterthought. But a consistent stretch routine is essential for better range of motion, improved performance as well as decreasing your risk of injury.
It doesn't have to be a chore or take up more time than you have in you already busy day. Try this effective 5-minute stretch routine from Johannesburg-based personal trainer Liza McAlister from 360 Health and Fitness.
Move 1: Pyramid Pose
- Stand with wider than hip-width apart, both feet facing the same right.
- Keeping both legs as straight as possible (but without locking your knees), tighten your abdominals, hinge from your hips and gently fold over your right leg, bringing your chest toward your thigh.
- Only take the stretch as far as is comfortable. If you're able to reach your thigh, try flexing the front foot and gently pulling the toes toward the shin to deepen the stretch to include the calf muscles.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
- Slowly, using your core, return to an upright position and repeat on the other side.
Move 2: Kneeling Quad Stretch
- Stand in a wide lunge position — right leg in front and left leg a few feet behind.
- Lower your left knee to the ground. Place the top of your left foot on the ground.
- Keeping your torso upright and core engaged (always), gently lean onto the right leg, creating stretching the quad of the back leg.
- You may stay in this position, but if you'd like, bend the back knee and grab the foot with the same-side arm.
- Flex your left foot and and gently pull it toward your butt to deepen the stretch of the front quad.
- Hold for 30 seconds.
- Slowly release the back leg, tuck toes under and come up into a lunge. Then straighten both legs and repeat on the other side.
When leaning forward, try to place pressure on the muscles just above the knee and not on the kneecap itself, McAlister says.
Move 3: Cross-Legged Forward Fold
- Stand tall as you bring one foot in front of and across the other. The toes of your back foot should be almost in line with the outer edge opposite the arch of the front foot with about a fist distance between the feet.
- With straight legs and engaged core, hinge forward at the hips and fold over your legs, reaching your hands toward the floor. You should feel this stretch in the outer thigh of the back leg (IT band).
- To deepen the stretch, walk your hands to the outside of the front leg.
- Hold the stretch for 30 seconds, only going as far as is comfortable.
- Slowly stand up and swap sides.
The IT band (iliotibial band) runs from the hip, along the outer thigh and down to the knee. It can get particularly tight and cause a lot of discomfort in both the hips and knees.
Move 4: Twisted Figure 4
- Lie on your back, knees bent and feet on the floor hip-width apart.
- Extend your arms out to the side — either straight or bent at the elbows (cactus or goalpost arms).
- Gently lower both knees to one side, rolling onto the edges of your feet and keeping both shoulders in contact to the floor.
- Take the foot of the bottom leg and gently rest it on the top leg just above the knee. The extra weight of the foot will deepen the stretch across the lower back.
- Hold for 30 second.
- Release the foot.
- Slowly return to center and repeat on the other side.
Move 5: Overhead Triceps Stretch
- While either sitting or standing, bring one arm up overhead and reach the hand behind you, aiming to rest it on your neck/upper back.
- Use the other hand to gently push the elbow back.
- If you'd like, gently bend to the opposite side to also stretch your obliques.
- Return to an upright position.
- Reach your bottom arm around your back so that your hands meet in the middle.
- If you can, clasp your hands behind your back and gently pull to stretch your shoulders.
- Release your hands before switching sides. Each position can be held for approximately 15 seconds.
You can use a towel, strap or even grip your shirt if your fingers don't reach each other behind your back.
Move 6: Scorpion Stretch
- Lying on your stomach with arms stretched out to the sides, draw one hand in toward your chest.
- Press into your hand to help you gently roll your body onto your side, keeping the other arm (now behind you) straight.
- Your legs can either stack one on top of the other, or you can bend the top knee and place the foot on the floor behind you.
- Keep your head resting on the floor.
- Hold for 30 seconds and slowly release back to center.
- Repeat on the other side.