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Express Stretching: Essential Stretches for Injury Prevention

Most of my clients do Beachbody workout videos... most of which do not include sufficient stretching. First of all, if your workout video includes a stretching segment, DO NOT turn the video off and skip the stretching!! It is so, so important for injury prevention. If you end up getting hurt, you'll be kicking yourself for kicking those stretches.

But ideally, I like to see people find some time to stretch each day, separately from their main workout. My personal yoga practice has done wonders for my health, and while a big part of its effect is emotional and hormonal, I can't deny that the physical flexibility benefits are enormous. So what I'm saying is, even if you're not interested in yoga for its benefits for anxiety, insomnia, and depression—do it for the flexibility.

As we age, our bodies get stiffer and tighter, and we lose the range of motion that came so effortlessly to us when we were kids. This gradual tightening can lead to problems in our knees, back, shoulders, neck... just about any joint of the body, as tight muscles pull our joints out of alignment. We can keep this process at bay, but it requires us to spend some time stretching each day (or most days).

In my opinion, the more time you can spend stretching or practicing yoga each day, the better! But if you just have 10-15 minutes, here are my "greatest hits" to keep you free of aches and pains, and make it less likely you'll get injured with repetitive movements such as push-ups, knee lifts, jabs and hooks.

Do these in the evening before bed, or at the end of your workout, but not first thing in the morning when your muscles are cold. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds (or longer if it feels good) and make sure you do both sides for the moves where that applies.

1) HIP FLEXOR STRETCH. Make sure to "tuck" your tailbone in the direction of your knees so you don't avoid the stretch by arching your lower back.

2) Pigeon for the PIRIFORMIS AND OUTER HIPS. Why the blanket? To even out my hips. Otherwise the hip of the bent leg would be lower than the other hip, and then the body avoids the targeted stretch. You could use a yoga block for this instead. Keep the front knee bent at a right angle and the entire shin (all the way up to the knee) firmly on the ground.

3) Happy baby to stretch the INNER GROINS. With the hands on the arches of the feet, pull/press down with your arms and rock from side to side to being the knees closer to the floor one by one. This should also be a nice release for the muscles of the low back.

4) Forward bend to stretch the HAMSTRINGS. Keep the weight forward on your feet so your hips don't end up way back behind the toes. Bend the knees enough so the abdomen comes close to the thighs. Release the head and neck down. Reach down through the elbows and use the arms to help lengthen the spine.

5) Side stretch for the OBLIQUE abdominals. Try to move your rib age as far away from your pelvis as possible on the side that is being stretched. It's fine to push the hip out on that side to deepen the stretch, as shown. In case it's not clear, I am standing up with my feet together.

6) Standing stretch for the PECTORAL MUSCLES AND BICEP TENDON. If these get too tight, the chest can stay closed on a semi-permanent basis, causing shoulder and neck pain and even problems with the rotator cuff. Very important to open the chest daily. Press the hand into the wall at shoulder level and turn your body as if you are walking away from your hand.

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