You would think that with all the benefits stretching has to offer, more people would be rushing to take advantage of it. "Not only does regular stretching keep muscles pliable to always perform at their best but it also helps the body flush out excess lactic acid, the waste byproduct of exercise," says Joseph Bernstein, M.D., director of sports medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Health System. "For these reasons, incorporating some form of stretching into your workout can significantly decrease your risk of injury, as well as lessen the amount of muscle soreness you may experience the next day."
Giving your muscles the "wringing out" they rightfully deserve after a workout doesn't have to be the time-constraining burden most people envision. "A good stretching routine doesn't always have to be a lengthy process in order to be effective," says Dr. Bernstein. In fact, you can loosen up almost every major muscle group throughout your upper and lower body in just one minute. Really. Dr. Bernstein advises incorporating this four-step stretch into your workout.
Position yourself in a crawling pose on the floor, resting on your hands and knees. Your palms should be flat on the floor, feet and hands about shoulder-width apart.
(stretches spine, rear deltoids and upper back) Lower your head and slowly round your back upward as far as you comfortably can, keeping hands and knees pressed to the floor. Breathe deeply and maintain position for 15 seconds, then return to starting pose.
(stretches chest, abs and lower back) Slowly tilt your head back so that you're staring at the ceiling. Now slowly drop your hips and arch your back as much as feels comfortable. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold this pose for 15 seconds; return to the starting pose.
(stretches shoulders, arms, hamstrings and calves) Keeping your hands in place, gently raise your rear end towards the ceiling, straightening your legs as you go. Your feet should end up flat on the floor with your body resembling an upside-down V. Lower your head in line with your arms and hold for 15 seconds, then return to starting pose.
(stretches chest, upper and lower back and abs) Finally, straighten your legs out behind you, extending your toes so that the tops of your feet rest flat on the floor. Lower yourself to the floor, leaving your hands palms-down alongside your chest. Now, without moving your legs and hips, slowly peel your head, chest, and stomach off the floor, curling your torso up and back. Use your arms for support, straightening them as you go, but resist the urge to push yourself up. Lean back as far as you comfortably can, hold for 15 seconds, and return to the starting pose.
And there you have it. That wasn't so hard, was it? In just seconds you've stretched your entire body. Remember, although these moves seem effortless, like any other stretches, they should be done after your muscles have been warmed up with some activity. "Just because this doesn't take much time to do doesn't mean you can do it anytime you like," warns Dr. Bernstein. Stretching an inactive muscle that's cold can do more harm than good. "The best time to stretch muscles is after they're warm from activity," he says. For maximum results, try this move immediately after your workout (or sport), or perform a five-minute, low-intensity warm-up (such as brisk walking or light cycling) beforehand.
Fitness expert Myatt Murphy, C.S.C.S., is the author of the best-selling books, The Body You Want in the Time You Have
, Ultimate Dumbbell Guid
e and co-author of The Gym Bible