Fitness implies flexibility, strength and endurance. While strength and endurance are central components for most athletic training programs, most people neglect flexibility training.
Flexibility is defined as a joints ability to move freely in all directions, or more specifically through a full range of motion. For each joint, and for each activity, optimal range of motion is vital to peak performance.
Stretching is an investment in a very valuable asset – the flexibility of your body. For all of us, our bodies are our instruments for peak performance. This is true whether we are elite athletes or occasional exercisers. Stretching will enable your muscles to function at peak efficiency, reduce the stress that repetitive activity places on your joints and reduce the risk of injury.
Training in flexibility can also help to balance the muscle groups that might be overused during a training session or as a result of poor posture. In order to improve any system, an overload must be generated to that system. The same is true for flexibility training: the muscles must be overloaded to increase flexibility. The safest way to do this is a slow, sustained stretch such as yoga asanas.
Stretching the hips can alleviate back pain for many people, particularly cyclists who tend toward tight hips. Following are some stretches to open the hips, allow for more freedom of movement and release tension in the spinal column.
Warrior II Stance
Stand close enough to a wall so your right buttock touches the wall. Have your legs about 4 to 4 ½ feet apart, turn your right foot out 90 degrees and your left foot slightly in. Bend your right knee as close to 90 degrees as you can, keeping the left leg straight. Place a block or towel between your right knee and the wall and the do the same with the left leg. Press firmly into both props feeling an opening in both hips. Breathe and enjoy the stretch for a few minutes before changing sides.
To perform the Triangle Pose correctly, a strong contraction of the deep hit rotators is required to align the femur, knee and foot. Separate the feet about 3 ½ to 4 feet, turn the right foot out 90 degrees and the left foot slightly in. Feel a firmness in the right buttock and externally rotate the thigh to align the knee with the foot. Maintaining the elongation of the spine, tip the pelvis over the right thigh, reaching the right arm as far as you can, and allow the hand to rest on your shin, ankle or foot (wherever your comfort level is). After 5-10 breaths, switch sides.
Step back with the left foot, bend the right knee to a right angle (keeping the right ankle directly under the right knee) and carefully place the left knee of the floor. Place your hands on your right thigh and open through the right hip flexor. If you can, take your hands to the floor inside the right foot. Hold this deep hip stretch for 1-2 minutes before changing sides.
Bound Angle Pose
Bend your knees, bring the soles of your feet together and draw your heels in toward your origin. Clasp your feet with your hands and open your feet like a book, simultaneously, open your knees away from each other. Slowly fold forward hinging from the hips. Stay here for at least 1 minute breathing into the abdomen.
Bend both knees and place the right ankle on top of the left knee and right knee on top of the left ankle. If this is not possible for your body, place the right leg in front of the left leg in a tight crossed leg position. (Keep the right ankle as close to the left knee as possible). Hinger forward from the hips and breathe. After 2-5 minutes, switch legs.
Lie on your back and hold onto the outside of your feet. Pull your feet down opening the hips and draw your knees as close to the side of the ribs as possible. Keep your spine long and the tailbone pressing toward the ground. Breathe and hold the pose for 1-3 minutes.
(Story by Mary Jo Ketterhagen-Ida originally published in the August 2002 edition of Spinning® Instructors News. Photo cred: Former teacher at Industry)