By Jenna AndersonW
ith the busyness of summer coming to an end and the transition into the winter sports right around the corner, now is a good time to add a few stretching movements into your workout routine. Hiking, climbing, running, and exercise in general can keep you moving well, but it can also create tightness in the hips, which can pull on the back and also the knees and even the ankles, creating a host of small hurts. Coming into the winter sports season with open, mobile hips and a low back is as simple as taking a few moments after your workouts to release tight spots and create more dexterity, allowing the body to move more freely in whichever direction you decide to send it.
Add the following four stretches to the end of your workout, or at the end of your day after a brisk walk, to limber up the muscles. Find demonstrations of each stretch in the gallery above.
GORILLA SQUATS The trick to these is to place your hands really far under your toes, so the ball of your foot nestles into the palm of your hand. You should be folded at the hip for this, and your knees can be bent but while trying to keep the hip joint directly over the ankle joint, about hip width to shoulder width apart. Tilt the sit bones up and lengthen through the back of the hamstring – if you’re feeling this in the back of your knees, soften them – and think about lengthening through the back of the leg. Try to keep your weight balanced, and deepen the stretch through tension generated by using your arms to try to pull your upper body down. Reverse the motion to facilitate mobility in the hips by sitting down and back, keeping your weight in your heels and knees behind the toes, with your elbows to the inside of the knees as you drop into a low squat. At the bottom, think about keeping your weight back, using your arms to create tension as you lift your chest up and forward, as though trying to push it between your hands. Reverse the motion by driving through your heels and forward folding to return to your starting position. Do 12-15 reps.
KNEE DROPS Starting in a low lunge position with your hands on either side of your right foot, walk your right foot closer to your left hand. Part of this exercise is creating space in the hips, but also in the shoulders and back through the flexion of the spine. Press your hands into the floor like you’re trying to push it away, tuck your belly, and lift your hips just a little, with your core activated, letting the knee drop to the right side – it may go to the floor, it may not. As the knee drops, allow the body to sink with it – your back, shoulders, and hips are essentially “loading” the stretch. Then push back into the ground and pull the knee back to the starting position. Do 10 drops on each side, holding the last drop for 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
STRADDLE WALKS Start seated on the floor with your legs straddled. If you can’t do this without slumping or keeping the natural arch in your low back, try un-tucking your pelvis, as though trying to tilt the top of your hipbones toward the floor. If your shoulders don’t lift and stack over your hips, simply slide yourself back against the wall for support. If using the wall, your initial movement is the un-tucking of the pelvis, as though trying to lift your sit bones away from the floor back toward the wall; you’ll feel your pelvis rotate forward. For your straddle, you’ll get better results with this stretch if you find your full range of motion – where the backs of your legs and knees stay on the floor – and then back off just a tiny bit. Continue to reach out of your hip joints through your legs, and, keeping your chest high, reach out as far as you can go. Your back can come off the wall, but just don’t push yourself off the wall and let the shoulders and back collapse – we’re opening not only the hips but the low back here. Once you’ve found your range of motion, keep your chest high and walk your hands to the left foot. Once there, see if you can create just a little more range by moving as though you’re trying to put your belly on the floor first, not your chest. Maintaining all the length you’ve just created, walk your hands to the right foot. That’s one. Go back and forth 12-15 times.
CRAB REACHES Start seated on the floor with your feet under your knees, one hand back behind the hip, fingers facing away from the body. Engage your glutes by lifting your hips, and reach the opposite hand up over your head, returning to start by dropping your hips straight down. If this is hard for you, support your back by rolling over a Swiss Exercise Ball or on a bench. Do 12 on each side.
Remember to be patient with mobility and stretching. It takes time and mindfulness to allow the body to open up. Stay with it and watch how a few minutes of stretching can improve your winter sports and also your workouts.
Jenna is a trainer and competitive physique athlete with a passion for yoga. She can usually be found at Flathead Health and Fitness in Kalispell teaching classes. She also offers personal training. Contact her at www.innerpowertraining.com.