Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is true not only in physics but also for your physique. And while you spend a lot of time in the gym contracting your muscles and hoping they will grow, how often do you really take the time to mindfully stretch them back out?
“Stretching is important to keep your joints mobile, your musculature balanced and your body agile,” says Juliet Kaska, owner of JK Zen Fitness in Beverly Hills, California, and master Pilates and yoga instructor. “When your muscles get shortened, such as when you weight train, they will limit your mobility, which in turn limits your ability to develop stronger, balanced muscles.” For example, when your lats are tight, your shoulder joints won’t be able to move within their full range of motion for most upper-body moves, which affects your overall results and development, according to Kaska.
To add some yin to your yang, Kaska has paired a yoga or Pilates move with a standard strength-training move to target the major muscles worked. “Yoga is a form of active stretching with the additional benefit of doing some strengthening, as well,” she says. “And with Pilates, your aim is to elongate your muscles as you’re working them — to stretch and balance rather than compress — with the power and control coming from your core.”
Practice these moves every day post-training to help achieve balance and flexibility within your body while preventing injuries and doing your muscles a solid. Even if you can’t give it to the world, at least you’ll achieve some inner peace.
Strength move: Dumbbell Stiff-Legged deadlift
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, legs straight but not locked, and hold a set of dumbbells in front of your thighs. Draw your shoulders back and tighten your abs. With a flat back, fold forward from your hip and lower your torso toward the ground. When you’ve come as low as you can without breaking form, reverse the move and return to the start.
Pilates move: Single-Leg Straight Leg
Lie faceup and extend your legs away from you, toes pointed. Curl your head and shoulders off the floor and hold here as you raise one leg (straight) toward your head. Grasp your leg with both hands and pull it as close to your forehead as possible, pulsing it in twice while inhaling. Switch legs and repeat while exhaling. Continue, alternating sides. Do three sets of 10 to 15 reps on each side.
Strength move: Push-Up
Place your hands wider than your shoulders on the floor and extend your legs behind you so you’re balanced between your hands and your toes. Your head, hips and heels should be in line. Bend your elbows and lower your body toward the ground, maintaining your tight body position. When your chest nearly touches down, reverse the move and return to the start.
Pilates move: Double-Leg Kick
Lie facedown with your legs together and clasp your hands behind you in the small of your back, elbows bent, head on the floor. Keeping your legs together, kick your heels toward your butt three times, inhaling with each rep, then extend your legs straight to hover just above the mat as you lift your head and chest off the mat and straighten your arms, reaching your hands for your feet as you exhale. Lower to the floor to complete one rep and repeat. Do three sets of 10 to 15 reps.
Strength move: Bent-Over Barbell Row
Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold a barbell in front of your thighs with a shoulder-width underhand grip. Hinge at the hip to fold forward with a straight back until your torso makes a 45-degree angle and your arms hang straight down toward the floor. Drive your elbows up and back to pull the barbell into your abdomen. Pause at the top, then slowly lower to the start.
Yoga move: Upward Salute Side Bend
Stand with your feet together and raise your arms overhead. Interlace your hands together and flip your palms to the ceiling. Tuck your tailbone slightly without rounding your lower back. Exhale and lean to the left with your upper body while keeping your hips steady, feeling the stretch along the side of your body. Inhale to return to the center and continue, alternating sides. Do three sets of five slow reps on each side.
Strength move: Squat
Stand with your feet a little wider than hip-width apart and hold a barbell across your back and traps, elbows down. Lift your chest and tighten your abs. Kick your hips back and bend your knees to squat toward the floor while keeping your chest lifted and your focus forward. When your hip crease comes below your knee, reverse the move to stand back to the start.
Yoga move: Hero Pose
Kneel on the floor with your knees touching and your feet spread apart wider than your hips. The tops of your feet should be flat on the floor and your big toes angled in toward one another. Sit back between your feet, then sit up tall and pull your shoulder blades inward and hold, breathing deeply for 30 to 60 seconds. Sit up off your heels and rest a moment, then repeat twice more.
Strength move: Crunch
Lie faceup with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Place your hands lightly behind your head for support and lift your chin. Curl your head, shoulders and upper back off the floor and pause at the top. Slowly lower to the start and repeat right away.
Pilates move: Swimming
Lie facedown with your arms extended overhead and your legs extended behind you, separated slightly. Raise your arms, chest and legs off the mat while squeezing your glutes and keeping your head neutral. Pump your arms and legs up and down in opposite pairs in small pulses as if swimming, breathing in for five reps and out for five reps. Do three sets of 20.