It’s not just about endurance and strength: being flexible can improve the quality of both your workouts and your daily life. “Changing your flexibility for good requires time, and lots of it,” says Terri Walsh, celebrity fitness trainer and designer of the A.R.T. Method. This means light preworkout and more involved postworkout stretching sessions aren’t all there is to it — you also need to work stretching into your lifestyle. “It’s great when fitness can be worked into any busy day,” says certified fitness personal trainer Sarah Robichaud, who regularly appears on CBS’s The Saturday Early Show. Here’s how you can take your stretching routine out of the gym.
Best Desk Stretch: Neck Release
Sitting on your chair, clasp your hands behind your back and pull your shoulders back and down. Gently let your head fall to one side. Take three deep breaths, then repeat on the other side. “This gentle stress reducer is great for combating the forward hunch we tend to have when staring at our computer screen,” says Robichaud. “It helps to release the tension in our shoulders, neck and jaw. It also promotes upright posture.”
The Preworkout Stretch: “Cat and Cow”
Our experts agree: preworkout stretching should be approached with caution. Warming up for a few minutes first is key. “At the beginning of a workout, I’d recommend two to three minutes of stretching after about five minutes of a gentle warm-up,” says Walsh. Try jumping jacks, walking up hill or push-ups. Then, try the “cat and cow” stretch: get down on all fours, arms directly under your shoulders. Pull your abs in while exhaling, and slowly round your spine up while pulling your head in. Pause, then reverse the motion while inhaling, arching your back and lifting the chest and hips upward. Pause. Repeat five times.
Best Postworkout Stretch: Deep Buttocks Stretch
Lie on the floor with your right foot flat on the ground and your knee bent. Cross your left ankle over your right knee. Lift your right leg, reach through the legs, and pull the right knee towards your chest to stretch your left buttock. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat on your other side. The buttock muscles are the largest in the body, and therefore need a little more attention in the postworkout stretch, explains Walsh.
Best Morning Stretch: Knee Hug/Twist
This stretch can be done lying in your bed. Breathing in and out slowly, place a pillow or blanket between your bent knees. Hug your knees into your chest and rock them over to one side. When your knees are over to one side, outstretch your arms. Hold for three breaths. Repeat on your other side.
Best Stretch For Energy: Seated Hamstring Stretch
Sit with your right leg extended straight. Ensure your left leg is bent and the arch of your left foot is level with your right knee. Hinge forward from your hip while pressing your shoulders back and keeping your back straight (do not bend from the waist), and hold on to your right shin, ankle or foot. Hold for 15 seconds to two minutes. Repeat on your other side. This is a great stretch for energy because it allows your muscles and body to spring into action while properly preparing them for your workout.
Best Stretch For Stress Relief: Side Stretch
From standing, take a deep breath in as you raise your arms out to the side and up towards the sky. Clasp your hands at the top. Lift through your waist and gently bend to one side. Take three deep breaths. Repeat on the other side. “This stretch incorporates breathing and movement, and can be used as a mini meditation,” says Robichaud.
Best Stretch Before Bed: The Warm Down
Stand in an upright position, then gently and slowly roll down vertebrae by vertebrae towards your feet (your knees may bend). Hang upside down, allowing your arms to hang extended. Gently rock from side to side. “Envision all of the stress of the day rolling out of the top of your head,” suggests Robichaud. “After taking three breaths, slowly roll up vertebrae by vertebrae into an upright position and repeat.”