Stretching is an extremely important component of a successful and balanced exercise program. It assists in helping to prevent injury and increases range of motion and flexibility. Stretching will also balance your workout by releasing tight muscles that have been contracted during the resistance and weight training portions of your exercise routine.
There are several different stretching techniques, as well as props that you can use to assist muscles in stretching. Here we are going to focus on a full-body stretch, using a physio ball. The ball should be appropriate for your size, for example: when you sit on the ball, your knees should be bent at 90 degrees, or your hips should be about 1” above the knee when sitting.
Throughout these exercises, we will be stretching major muscles groups, upper and lower back, quads, hamstrings, calves, and neck, using a variety of stretches from various disciplines such as Pilates, yoga, and personal training.
It’s important to note that it’s best not to stretch first thing in the morning, right out of bed, without an appropriate warm up for about 8-10 minutes. March in place or walk briskly for 7 minutes then do a few shoulder circles, rolling them forward and backwards five times each. Remember to breathe deeply, inhale through your nose before the movement and exhale through your mouth, while executing the movements. Then swing your arms slowly side-to-side while twisting your trunk side-to-side eight times. Finally, raise each arm over your head, very controlled, ten times. Now your muscles are warm and you can to begin your stretches. You may also add your stretches at the end of your fitness routine, for a full-body workout and great results.
Stretch #1 – Standing Warm Up (warms muscles from head-to-toe)
After warming up, place the ball in your hands, feet hip-width apart. Swing the ball down in a slight squat position and then up over one shoulder, then back down and up over the other shoulder. Focus on proper body mechanics by keeping your traps down, engaging the movement from under the shoulder blades. Repeat ten times, side-to-side.
Stretch #2 – Back/Hamstring Stretch with Ball (stretches upper and lower back, hamstrings, and underarms)
Begin with the ball on ground in front of your body. Open legs hip-width apart with your toes forward. Place your palms on the ball, inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth and roll the ball out slowly to your finger tips. When reaching forward to stretch, your back should be flat like a table as you pull your navel to your spine to activate the lower abdominal muscles and press your body weight into the hamstrings and back of legs. Your head should be in a neutral position, chin tucked in slightly. Hold for three inhales and exhales. Release back up by rolling through the tail bone first, up the spine, and then repeat the sequence one more time.
Stretch # 3- Dorsiflexion (calf stretch)
Roll down to the same “table” position with your palms on the ball. Inhale and lift your right foot and arch up “dorsiflex,” (heels are down) and exhale. Inhale, place the right foot down, then exhale and lift your left foot and arch up. Repeat each foot slowly three times.
Stretch # 4 Phase I- Side Lunge on the Ball (stretches hips, abductors, lats, rhomboids, and extensors)
Begin by sitting on the ball in yoga warrior II pose, to the left side. Your right leg is extended and foot is at a slight angle, your left knee is bent, and arms are directly extended to the sides. Inhale and stretch your left arm to the sky, looking up, exhale, hold stretch for three more breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Stretch #4 Phase II- Lunge on Knee (stretches hip flexors and quads)
Take your lunge to the floor, on your right knee. Your right leg extends and your left knee is bent in front, behind the toes. Inhale, lean into the ball with your chest lifted, and exhale. Hold for two more breaths. Repeat on your other side.
Stretch #5 –Phase I- Mermaid Spine with Ball
Sitting on the floor in the Pilates mermaid pose with your left knee in, right knee and leg outside the body. The ball is to the outside of the left knee, palms on the ball. While gazing at the ball, inhale and press it away to the side, stretching out in front of you. Exhale and allow your head to hang and relax between arms.
Stretch #5 -Phase II – Mermaid (for neck, elevator, shoulders and pectorals)
In mermaid pose on your left side, place the ball under left palm and sit tall. Roll the ball behind left hip to stretch pectorals and shoulders. While there, inhale and turn your head to the right shoulder and lower your chin down, then exhale. Hold this stretch for another two breaths and inhale and exhale. Repeat Mermaid Phase I and II on your right side.
Stretch # 6- Spine Flexion (lower back and lumbar opener)
On your knees on a padded floor or mat, hug the ball, allowing your arms to rest to the side. Focus on deep breathing into the lower back to release all tension. Inhale and exhale slowly three to five times.
Stretch # 7 – Spine Extension (stretches Thoracic spine and subscapularis, pectorals, and chest)
Bend your knees with your feet are hip width apart and sit on the ball. Walk out until your shoulders, head and upper back are resting on the ball. Inhale and extend the body back slowly, allowing your arms to relax to the side and exhale. Inhale and exhale for three more breaths. Roll up and repeat sequence one more time.
Stretch # 8 – Final Roll Down (relaxes spine, lower back, and neck)
Sitting on the ball, nice and tall, inhale and roll your chin to your chest. Continue to roll down, bone by bone until your palms reach the floor, then exhale. While totally relaxing your spine, inhale into the lower lobes of your lungs, and exhale two more times. Then inhale and roll back up slowly, bone by bone. Repeat the sequence one more time.
Now, your entire body should feel stretched and rejuvenated!