The Small Steps series is heading into the home stretch and the last two months of the year are the most difficult for most of us to stay on track with healthy eating and exercise. So I’ve chosen a less taxing goal for this month’s small step. However, it is no less vital in the series.
Flexibility training and its sister component, balance training, are often overlooked in the realm of fitness. But, they are just as important as cardio and strength training and eating healthy if the goal is a fit life.
Incorporate Flexibility Training Into Your Established Routines
If you aren’t doing any stretching on a regular basis, then your assignment this month is to finish every exercise routine you do – at the gym, walk in the neighborhood, ride on the bike path, strength training routine – with stretches.
Don’t stretch cold muscles before your workout. Stretch only at the conclusion of workouts when muscles are warmed up. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and stretch especially tight muscles a second time. At minimum, stretch all the muscles that were the primary workers during your exercise. But, if you have the time, it’s even better to stretch all the major muscle groups.
Here are some examples of static stretches for each of the major muscle groups, courtesy of acefitness.org:
- Cobra (Abs, Back)
- Child’s Pose (Abs, Back, Thighs, Glutes)
- Cat-Camel (Chest, Back)
- Seated Straddle Stretch (Back, Thighs)
- Standing Lunge Stretch (Hip, Thighs)
- Standing Calf Stretch (Calves, Shins)
- Modified Hurdler’s Stretch (Hamstrings, Thighs)
- Triceps Stretch (Back Upper Arm)
- Seated Biceps Stretch (Front Upper Arm)
Add More Flexibility and Balance Training To Your Routine
If you already stretch after working out, consider incorporating one yoga or mat Pilates routine weekly. This can be accomplished at your health club, at a yoga or Pilates studio, by DVD, through a fitness app, or via online video. The last two options, app and online video, can often be accessed for free.
The disciplines of yoga and Pilates have the added benefit of training balance along with flexibility. Balance training is often over-looked in the average workout but is so beneficial as a functional training tool.
These disciplines also run the gamut of intensities and forms. So, if you’re thinking that you just don’t have the time in your week to add one more fitness routine, consider replacing one of your usual cardio or strength routines with a yoga or Pilates routine that incorporates cardio or strength. Or perhaps time isn’t the issue but, rather, you’re wanting a break from the intensity of the traditional modes of exercise. In that case, find a gentle or relaxation yoga class or video.
Because flexibility and balance training rely on a practice of proper breathing and mental focus, they are proven to help relieve stress and promote overall feelings of well being. Meaning, what you’ll find is not only are flexibility and balance training good for the body but the mind and soul as well. What a perfect thing to practice before heading into the hectic holiday season.
~To learn more about the benefits of flexibility and balance training and the different types of stretches, read my previous post Rubber Bands & Bungee Cords.~
If you’re new to the Small Steps series, you can read about the philosophy and strategies of the series here. Know the Small Steps strategies don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another. So, you can begin the series with this post, continue throughout the rest of the year and pick up what you missed next year.
Previous Small Steps posts: January’s Portion Control; February’s Plan Ahead; March’s Accentuate the Positives, Eliminate the Negatives; April’s Substitutions; May’s Go Old School; June’s +1; July’s Reflect, Revamp & Renew; August’s Reflect, Revamp & Renew Revisited; September’s Embrace Technology.
Author’s Note: Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.