Stretch Into Fitness
Now that we’ve conquered our fears of the gym, and overcome our struggles in the kitchen, it’s time to get down to business.
Before jumping into any type of workout full force, we must work to get our bodies into neutral alignment to allow for proper movement throughout an exercise.
“Start by stretching chronically tight areas of the body that affect hip alignment,” suggests Carlyn Stilling, B.Kin and personal training supervisor at the University of Calgary Fitness Centre.
Although each of us may face our own personal imbalances from sports or previous injury (e.g. back or knee problems), Stilling says that the average student often suffers from tight hip flexors, hamstrings and glutes, due to the amount of time they spend seated.
By no fault of our own, as students, we spend a great majority of our days sitting through hour-long lectures, slaving over textbooks in the library or sitting at a computer typing up yet another paper. That’s the price one has to pay to get an A, though, right?
As it turns out, sitting may not be as innocent or harmless as we once thought.
According to strength and conditioning specialist, Jordan Bierkos, BPE and member of the University of Calgary Personal Training Team, chronic sitting will lead to a shortening of the muscles that are used to flex the hip because they are constantly in a shortened position.
“When these muscles become tight, one result among many is an effect known as reciprocal inhibition,” says Bierkos. “This means that when a muscle that does one function and becomes active, the muscle that does the opposite relaxes. So when the hip flexors are tight and active, the extensors—most prominently the glutes—stop recruiting as readily.”
In other words, you needs those glutes working to properly stabilize the lower back, knees and ankles when running, lunging, squatting, or deadlifting, etc. And if you’re after those “to-die-for” summer legs and glutes, you need to get those muscles firming properly, by stretching the hip flexors (muscles in the front of the hip).
“Walking half lunges with your hands over your knees as a warm-up exercise is a great one to start with,” says Ken Nguyen, B.Kin and Certified Personal Trainer at the University of Calgary.
Nguyen recommends, taking a big step and lower halfway down, pushing your back heel towards the ground, hold for three counts, stand up and step forward with the other leg. Repeat eight to 10 times per side. Remember to keep your back straight and your torso upright. The front of your shin should be perpendicular to the floor and your rear knee should be pointed down.
“Focus on stretching the front of your hip,” advises Nguyen. “Squeezing the glute of the rear leg, and pointing that hip to the front knee will help.”
The second hip flexor stretch recommended by the personal training team at the University of Calgary focuses on glute activation. Lie on your stomach and bend your leg at a 90 degree angle with both knees together and foot relaxed. Place your hand on the glute of the working side, remembering to squeeze there first before lifting the leg.
Engage your core before lifting, and press your hips into the ground. Finally, lift your bent leg a few centimeters off the ground, hold and then lower slowly. Repeat this action six to eight times per leg, holding for five seconds each, explains Nguyen.
Hamstrings and Calves
In addition to the hip flexor, students who sit all day long should consider the importance of dynamically stretching out hamstrings and calves before any type of physical activity, in order to avoid injury and allow for proper muscle firming.
“The key to hamstring stretching is to bend only at the hip and not the back,” advises Nguyen. “A good hamstring stretch that supports the lower back is to lie on your back and lift one leg up, keep the knee slightly bent and use a belt around your foot to pull the leg toward your chest.”
Nguyen says, keep your elbows on the ground. Push your heel up to the roof and bring your toes down towards your head, hold for three seconds, relax, then repeat eight to 10 times per side, pulling the leg in a bit closer after the first five repetitions.
Note: This stretch can also be done as a cool down exercise after completing your workout. In this case, hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds.
“Once you’ve finished your workout, focus on stretching your glutes, which attach onto your lower back to help relieve any tightness or muscle pain,” says Stilling. “This can be done using two different stretches.”
1. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Place both hands behind the left thigh, holding and pulling gently towards you until you feel the stretch in your bottom and outer thigh. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds then repeat with the opposite leg.
2. Cross your right knee over your left knee, and slowly lower both of your legs to the same side as the top (right) leg. Repeat with the opposite leg. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds then repeat with the opposite leg.
“Stretching is a vital component of your overall fitness as it works to neutralize your body’s muscles and correct any imbalances you might be prone to,” says Stilling. “Proper stretching and activation will allow for accurate muscle firing during your workout and, ultimately, contribute to your long-term goals.”
Keep these, and other fitness tips, in mind as we work our way toward that fabulous summer bod!
Author: Betty Glauder is a student. She grew up in Aurora, Colorado. She studies at University of Colorado and works at term paper service as writer. She is a Greenpeace volunteer. Also she is an amateur hip-hop dancer.