The strong muscles of the calf can be quite tight, especially after prolonged standing or walking, and for many athletes whose sport of choice involves running or jumping. To best stretch these muscles, grab a bolster or pillow and have a seat; start with both feet extended out in front of you with the pillow under your knees so that they’re slightly bent. Flex your ankle back so that your toes are toward the ceiling. Using your hand — or a belt if you can’t reach — pull back slowly on the arch or ball of your foot until a stretch is felt in the lower calf. Hold until the stretch sensation diminishes. Remove the pillow and repeat the stretch; this time the sensation of pull may travel all the way behind the knee.
For best results, stretch one calf at a time and repeat the stretch two or three times per leg. Be patient, as the calf muscles can take a while to relax. Once the initial stretch sensation lessens, you can deepen the stretch by pulling back a little more on the ball of the foot.
If you sit at a desk all day, chances are good that the muscles in the back of your neck and between your shoulder blades are a little achy by the end of your work day. A lot of the time our inclination is to stretch sore, tired muscles, but that can do more harm than good in this case. Those achy muscles in your back are the 90-pound weaklings of the shoulder girdle, griping about having to hold up your head against the force of gravity. Stretching them will only make them weaker — they’re already barely hanging on! As your shoulders shrug up and in, and your head juts forward and down toward your laptop screen, the strong, silent muscles of the chest and anterior neck shorten and pull on the opposing, weaker back muscles.
The fix: stretch the strong and strengthen the weak! Try this routine a couple of times a week, doing each exercise in order and completing the full series 3 times. Rest for 30 seconds to 1 minute between exercises. Choose weights that are heavy enough that you can JUST finish each set of exercises but not so heavy that your form suffers. Increase your weights when 12 reps become too easy.
30 Superman extensions
30 Airplane extensions
30 second plank (on hands or forearms)
12 skull crusher triceps extensions
12 single-arm bent-over rows
12 dumbbell reverse flys
12 dumbbell lateral raises
12 single-arm external shoulder rotations
Tight calf muscles are prone to cramping: the dreaded “charlie horse” that wakes you up in the middle of the night or attacks as you move from sitting to standing. The large muscles in the back of the lower leg are the soleus and gastrocnemius, both of which attach into the Achilles tendon and run vertically along the back of the lower leg. The soleus attaches to the lower leg bones, and the ‘gastrocs’ attach just above the knee on either side of the femur. Because only one of these two muscles (collectively referred to as the Triceps Surae) passes the knee, to effectively stretch them both, you must stretch twice: with the knee bent to stretch the soleus, and with it flexed to stretch the gastrocs.
Stand facing a wall, close enough that you can rest the ball of your foot against it while your heel stays on the ground. Your opposite leg should be a step behind you for balance. Place your hands against the wall and lean forward toward the wall, keeping your knee straight, until you feel a gentle stretch in the back of your leg. Hold this position for about 30 seconds or until the stretch sensation lessens. Slowly bend the knee by lowering your body a bit toward the ground, until a stretch is felt. This time, the stretch sensation will be closer to the Achilles. Hold until the sensation lessens, and then repeat on the opposite leg.
This is an advanced mobility technique that uses an exercise band to increase the intensity of the triceps stretch, and helps release restrictions in the shoulder capsule – a collection of fibrous ligaments, tendons and connective tissues that form the shoulder joint. This stretch is excellent to increase or regain range of motion following a shoulder injury, and can help combat the internal (forward) rotation of the shoulders that often accompanies a rounded upper back (hyperkyphotic) posture.
To stretch the right side: attach one end of a heavyweight exercise band to the door knob of a closed door. Take the other end in your right hand, wrapping the band around your hand/wrist as need to avoid slipping and increase the resistance. Turn your body 180′ COUNTER-clockwise, fully bending your elbow so that it points toward the ceiling. Your wrist should be behind your right ear and your back facing the door, as if you were dragging it behind you. To increase the stretch, take a lunge step forward, allowing the band to pull your arm back a little bit. Keep your elbow pointed straight to the ceiling and tucked as close to your head as possible. To increase the stretch in the shoulder capsule, gently turn your palm up toward the ceiling. Hold for 1 minute before releasing.
To stretch the left side: Wrap the free end of the band around your left hand/wrist, turn your body 180′ CLOCKWISE and repeat as above.
If you spend long hours at a computer, this stretch is for you! The muscles in the forearm cross the wrist via the carpal tunnel; when tight, they can cause pain in the wrist and hand. Stretch them by holding your arm out in front of you, palm facing up. Keeping your elbow straight, bend your wrist back so that your fingers point toward the floor. Use your other hand to increase the stretch by pulling back on your palm. Hold the stretch for at 30 seconds or until a release is felt, then repeat on the other side.
This stretch targets the muscle that shrugs your shoulders, the Levator Scapulae. It attaches to the top of your shoulder-blade, and to the sides of the uppermost bones of the neck. To stretch, first side-bend your head away from the side you want to stretch, and hold for a couple of breaths. Secure the arm on the stretching side behind your back to keep your shoulder down. Next, gently rotate and nod your head so that your nose is pointing into your armpit. Increase the stretch if desired by gently pulling your head farther into the stretch with your opposite hand. Hold for 30 seconds or until a release is felt.
An absolute must for runners and lovers of high-heels. Stand with feet at hip width. While the leg you want to stretch stays in place, take a large step forward with the opposite leg, bending the knee so that it is directly above the ankle. Lower the back leg so the knee comes toward the ground, increasing the stretch across the front of the hip and thigh. Keep your torso straight and your tailbone tucked, so that your hands or arms are resting on your forward leg.
Target the front of the thigh to relieve knee and low back pain. Stand with feet just at hip width. Bend the knee of the side you want to stretch so that your heel comes up toward your buttock. Use a towel roll tucked behind the knee to open up the joint. Grasp the foot or ankle with the same-side hand, or use a belt or towel if you can’t reach. If needed, rest your opposite hand on a table or chair to help maintain your balance throughout the stretch.
This stretch is essential if you spend all day on your feet, or suffer from hip pain or sciatica. Start in hook-lying position: on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. On the side you want to stretch, turn your knee out, and cross your ankle across the opposite knee. Reach the arm on the stretch side through the triangle space between your legs and hold behind the knee of the opposite leg with both hands. To increase the stretch, lift the opposite side foot off the ground and bring that knee toward your chest.