The Benefits of Flexibility

For me, every Tuesday is a recovery day — which means I work on flexibility, range of motion, and foam rolling to stretch back everything I’ve compressed and tightened over the previous week.  I stretch and foam roll every day, but I dedicate a full 2-3 hours (split into morning and night sessions) on Tuesdays for this type of active recovery.

This week, I focused on hip mobility.  Tomorrow is leg day, and a crucial part of maximizing a leg workout is being able to execute squats/lunges/deadlifts with a full range of motion without stressing my joints.  In order to really activate your glutes, you need to be able to drop down as low as possible.  If your hips and lower back are tight, it is nearly impossible to get into a full range of motion that will hit the muscles as hard as possible.

Another benefit to hip and lower back mobility is improvement of your posture.  On top of just looking better when you stand up straight, good posture can release tension in your neck and shoulders (which for me, builds rapidly as I sit at a desk typing all day long.)

One tip I have is to always warm-up sufficiently before attempting any stretches or deep foam-rolling.  You can get deeper into poses without as much strain on cold muscles.  I usually do a small amount of superficial foam rolling, walk on a treadmill or use an elliptical for 15 minutes, and then get into my yoga moves.  It is always smart to start with a few sun salutations before jumping into more advanced moves.  I finish my “workout” with a series of foam roller exercises for my back, shoulders, and legs.

Here are a few of my favorite yoga postures for hip/lower back mobility:

(1) Pigeon Variations:

Start with one leg bent, with your calve stretched parallel to your hips. Try to square your hips forward.  You can give yourself more leverage by flexing your back toes and pushing that side of your hips forward.

You can drop forward or arch backward to get a deeper opening in the hips — I prefer to point my fingers back and reach back to get a chest opener at the same time.

IMG_6814

IMG_6818

For king pigeon, reach your arms overhead and back for the foot of your back leg, releasing your head back until it rests on your feet.

IMG_6811

IMG_6806

(2) Bent-Knee Lunge Variations:

By keeping your back knee on the floor, you can work deeper into your hips.  Start with the front leg bent, with your fingertips a few inches behind your front foot.  Push your weight onto the outer edge of your foot and press the knee out to your side.

IMG_6820

You can drop onto your forearms for a deeper stretch.

IMG_6821

If that feels comfortable, you can put the same arm as bent knee behind the front knee and around to the side.

IMG_6825

From here, you can grab the foot and lift it to your side to get a deeper stretch through the middle hip.

IMG_6830

If you have trouble getting the leg raised from that posture, it may be easier to start from standing and lift the foot up and to the side of the body to open the hip.

IMG_6783

Another variation you can try is lifting the leg and balancing on your front arm.

IMG_6841

IMG_6844

You can also bind from the starting position  — this twist always helps open my chest and back.  I lift the back leg to deepen the posture, but you can also leave your back knee on the floor.

IMG_6852

(3) Squats/Malasana

Malasana is a deep squat, with toes pointed slightly outward and heels grounded.  Place the hands in a prayer position and press outward on your thighs to increase your range of motion.

IMG_6835

IMG_6858

IMG_6863

(4) Triangle Variations:

One of the best tips I’ve ever received for triangle pose is really flex the quad muscle while simultaneously pressing through the outer edge of the back foot – the pose feels much more stable when you do both of these things together.

Today I worked on revolved triangle – start with the feet spread about 4-5 feet apart (depending on your height), with the front foot pointed forward and the back foot point forward at a 45 degree angle.  Bring the left hand across the body to the outside of the right foot, and place it on the floor. Ground down through that hand as you twist and raise your right hand to the ceiling, letting your gaze follow the lifted hand.

IMG_6846

You can also bind here by bringing the left hand under your leg and grabbing the left wrist with your right hand.  Work to open through the chest rather than hunching the shoulders forward to catch the bind.

IMG_6850

Another trick is self-adjustment.  As you are reaching across, use your right hand to push your left hip back.

IMG_6784

(5) Backbending Variations:

While backbends obviously target the back, they are also great hip openers.  I always feel these variations through my psoas:

Full Wheel

IMG_6876

Full Wheel with Leg Lift

IMG_6880

Standing Backbend

IMG_6888

(6) Standing Hand-to-Toe Variations:

Again, these moves target balance and other parts of the body, but when done regularly, they can also help open the hip joint to a greater range of motion.

First, try bringing the knee into the chest.  Grab the foot with both hands and extend the foot in front of you.  Drop your upper body onto the raised leg.

IMG_6787

Alternatively, you can bind first before lifting your leg (called bird of paradise).  Thread the same arm as lifted leg under the leg and grab your opposite wrist.  Lift up and point your toes to the ceiling.

IMG_6838

IMG_6839

(7) Lotus Variations:

Again, lotus also works knees but is a great movement for opening the hips.

I personally love bound standing lotus (from the Ashtanga primary series), including the variation that involves bending over until your nose rests on your calve.

IMG_6866

IMG_6870

IMG_6872

Marichyasana is another great lotus variation – start with one knee bent and the other foot cradled in the hip joint in a lotus knee variation.  Twist your same arm as bent knee around the bent knee and grab that wrist with your other hand behind your back.  A more advanced variation involves twisting in the other direction (but my shoulders weren’t open enough to get into that pose this morning — definitely a work in progress.)

IMG_6899

Lotus balance work is also great for the core!

IMG_6905

One thought on “The Benefits of Flexibility

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s