It’s so important to properly stretch your muscles before and after a workout. Here, a fitness expert tells us the two best stretches for targeting just about every major muscle group.
It doesn’t matter if you prefer cardio or strength training – regardless of your exercise of choice, it is so important that you properly warm up and cool down before and after you work out. And, whether you like to run, power walk, or lift weights in the gym, stretching is one of the best ways to do just that.
Stretching helps you to optimise your performance and avoid injury by activating the muscles and helping them transition to and from your workout. Some of the most effective stretches are those that target every major muscle group at once, and a good all-round stretch will help to set you up for a variety of different workouts. But don’t forget to add in some more targeted stretches if you’re working on your upper body, lower body or core, and mobility exercises if you’re doing cardio.
According to Emma Obayuvana, a fitness trainer and member of our Strong Women Collective, not only will stretching pre-workout “improve exercise performance”, it will also “help to decrease injury risk, and warm up joints and muscles so they are able to work in full range of motion”, which will contribute to better form whether you’re cycling or strength training.
While it may not seem quite as necessary to stretch after the fact, post-workout stretches are similarly important. They contribute to an effective and injury-free recovery by “helping to eliminate lactic acid, alleviating muscle soreness and tension, and helping to regulate blood flow so the heart rate can return to normal”.
If you want to start adding in some full-body stretches to your workout sessions, Emma has kitted us out with two of her favourites: the World’s Greatest Stretch and the Russian Baby Maker. Check out her instructions and watch the video below.
The World’s Greatest Stretch
The clue is in the name with this one. Beloved by trainers and fitness fanatics alike, this targets everything from your ankles and hamstrings to your hips, spine, shoulders and glutes, and really helps to loosen up areas that tend to stiffen if you sit at a desk all day.
You start by pushing yourself up from the floor with your hands and toes into a plank position, with your arms fully extended. Your body should form a straight line running from your head to your heels. Then, step forward with your left foot so that it lands just outside of your left hand and “your front knee is at 90 degrees”.
From here, move your left elbow to the inside of your left foot and allow yourself to feel a slight stretch in the hips, before rotating through the spine to reach your left arm up to the sky. Look up at the arm above you, ensuring your back is straight, your core is engaged and your back leg is still fully extended. Twist again through the spine to return your arm to the ground in front of you, step back into the plank position, and repeat on your right side.
Russian Baby Maker with arm raise
Though perhaps not what you’d expect a full-body stretch to be called, Russian Baby Makers are an excellent way to target your core and the major muscles of your lower body such as your quads, glutes and calves. You can also give your arms and shoulders a good stretch by adding in arm raises.
Start standing “with feet shoulder width apart, then hinge forwards at the hips”, reaching your hands down to touch your toes. Bend your knees to sit into a deep squat. Then, keeping your chest open and your shoulders down, raise your arms up above you. Hold for a second, before returning your hands to the ground in front of you, and straighten your legs, so that you are once again hinged at the hips with hands on the floor in front of you. Repeat the exercise.
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