Guide to Strengthening and Stretching

Stretching and strengthening is important to get your body ready to move, and most importantly to help avoid injury.

Glutes

We’re pretty much talking about your butt and the primary muscles that move your legs. Your glutes help you move and engaging them can crush some serious calories! If your hips sway when you run or walk, or you experience knee or hip pain, your glutes may need strengthening. When you’re working weak glutes, start with bodyweight exercises, like squats, lunges or side-lying clam exercises. Progress to light weights or resistance bands.

Here’s how to do a basic squat exercise:

  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, ensuring your toes and knees are aligned.
  2. Keep the weight mostly in your heels – you should be able to wiggle your toes.
  3. To begin the squat, brace your abdominals (without holding your breath), push your hips back and down, ensuring your knees stay over your toes, as you lower into the squat.
  4. Keep your head up, arms out parallel to the floor and look forward until you reach about 90 degrees at your knees.
  5. Drive your heels into the ground as you push up.
  6. Finish in a tall posture.

Tip: You should only feel tension in your thighs and glutes. If you feel pain or discomfort in your knees or back, don’t lower into the squat as much. You can also practice by placing a chair behind you. Imagine you are going to sit down onto it. Start with a hand using a table for touch balance if you need to.

Quadriceps

Squats and lunges will start to build more strength in your quadriceps (the muscles in the front of your legs). Once you’ve warmed up, give them a stretch too.

  1. Stand tall and bend one knee so your ankle can come towards your glute
  2. Grasp your ankle with your hand, keeping your knees together
  3. Pull your heel towards your glute.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and relax your breathing
  5. Change legs and repeat

Tip: Use a wall or doorframe to balance in if you’re unsteady standing on one leg.

Hamstrings

Like your quadriceps, your hamstrings (the muscles at the back of your thigh) will start to build more strength when you squat or lunge.

Here’s how to stretch them:

  1. Place the heel of one leg on a chair or bench, with your toes pointing upwards
  2. Your leg should be straight but with a slight bend in your knee
  3. Hinge forward at the hips towards the outstretched leg, gently drawing your toes towards you
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and relax your breathing.
  5. Change legs and repeat

Tip: If your hamstrings are tight, only hinge forward as far as comfortable, without your knee popping up.

Calf Stretch

Your calves will get tight if you’re increasing the amount of activity you were doing previously, so they’ll need some stretching. Generally, they don’t need specific exercises to strengthen them as they get a significant amount of work as we move around day-to-day. The easiest way to stretch your calves is as follows:

  1. Stand on a step or gutter with one foot fully on the step
  2. Take the foot of the leg you’re stretching and place it on the step, so your heel is over the edge.
  3. Gently lower your heel towards the ground so the weight rests on the ball of your foot.
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and relax your breathing.
  5. Change legs and repeat

Hip flexors

Your hip flexor muscles help you move your hips. Sitting, squatting or kneeling for long periods can shorten these muscles which can reduce your stride and result in back pain. So, you need to stretch them. Here’s a simple hip flexor stretch:

  1. Kneel into a lunge position
  2. Keep your knees and hips at 90 degrees
  3. Gently lean forward until you feel a stretch
  4. Hold for 30 seconds and relax your breathing Change legs and repeat

Abdominal and back muscles

Your abdominal and back muscles support your whole body. If these muscles are weak, you’re more likely to suffer injury. Try exercises, like a plank, to strengthen them.

  1. Start this exercise on your knees.
  2. Lengthen out your body so your forearms are on the floor with your elbows at 90 degrees and under your shoulders.
  3. Draw your navel into your spine to activate your deep abdominals, don’t hold your breath.
  4. Lower your hips so you can draw a straight line between your shoulders and hips.
  5. Hold for 15-30 seconds with relaxed breathing, repeat.

Activities such as sitting at a desk, driving vehicles or holding children for prolonged periods can result in rounded shoulders. To help counteract this you need to stretch your chest...and you just need a doorway.

  1. Stand in the middle on the doorway
  2. Place your arms inside the doorframe with your palms facing forward 
  3. Keep your elbows and shoulders at a 90-degree angle  
  4. Gently lean forward from your hips so your body moves further into the doorway (don’t arch your back)
  5. Hold the position for 30 seconds and relax your breathing. 
  6. To move out of the stretch simply step back 

Tip: You can perform the stretch one side at a time if it feels more comfortable.