Fitness, like any other skill or practice needs to begin with a solid foundation. Otherwise, when you try to build on top of a weak foundation eventually everything comes tumbling down, IE; severely pulled or torn muscles and tendons, or joint injuries. Of course when an athlete suffers an injury their training routine is put on hold for weeks or even months at a time causing them to lose any progress they had previously made. So, begin with the basics: like an active stretching and warm-up routine that targets all of the primary and even secondary muscle groups that you plan to train that day. Personally, I prefer to warm up and do my stretching routine for a minimum of 20 minutes. I’ve torn and pulled muscles and tendons before during workouts, I don’t recommend it.
So, today I’m starting with my favorite and most efficient stretches/ warm-up movements for your back, glutes (Gluteus Maximus/Minimus or simply your butt muscles), hips, and hamstrings. Even if you’re not one for working out very often, these stretches can also alleviate back tension and pain, increase flexibility, and prevent leg cramps.
Scapula (Shoulder Blade), Latissimus Dorsi (Lat), and Mid-Back Stretches
Starting from the top and working our way down, we’re starting with a series of shoulder and mid-back stretches. The first is very basic, you probably already do this stretch without even thinking about it honestly, but it’s pretty useful in stretching your Rear Deltoids, Lats, Trapezius, and Rhomboids. We’ll call it the “Cross-Arm Stretch.” Start by crossing one arm over your chest and placing your hand on your opposite shoulder. With your free hand, grasp the elbow of the arm/shoulder your stretching, and pull toward you. You don’t need to pull very hard, this is just a stretch, you’re not trying to dislocate your shoulder. Add and release tension about every ten seconds, holding the stretch for a total of thirty or forty seconds or until you feel the muscles in your shoulder and back relax. Repeat with the opposite arm.
The second shoulder and mid-back stretch is the “Lat-Tri Stretch” or the “Atta-Boy Stretch.” You’re practically trying to pat yourself on the back with this one. Start by extending one arm over your head, just like raising your hand to ask a question back in elementary school; now, drop your hand back toward the same shoulder. With your opposite hand, grab your elbow and gently pull, imagine you’re trying to reach a spot on your back that itches. You should feel the stretch throughout your lats and triceps. Just like the cross-arm stretch, hold and release tension for ten seconds at a time holding the stretch for a total of thirty or forty seconds at a time on each arm.
Thoracic and Lumbar Stretches
Now we’re moving just a bit lower, stretching your mid and lower back (thoracic and lumbar spine muscles). Also, a very basic stretch that you probably already do without thinking about it. Simply bend at your waist and try to touch your toes, keeping a very slight bend in your knees at first, slowly lowering yourself toward your toes and straightening your legs slowly as your muscles relax. Stand upright again every thirty seconds or so and stretching again trying to go lower each time, DO NOT BOUNCE AT THE BOTTOM! Bouncing can jar your spine, pull muscles, or even slip a disc in your spine believe it or not. Once the muscles in your back and glutes relax, you can stretch your hamstrings more effectively by grabbing the backs of your knees or calves and pulling your chest toward your knees; again, do not pull too hard or bounce!
Low Back and Glute Stretches
The last stretches for today are a bit more complicated than the others but very useful nonetheless. The first is known as the “Iron-cross.” Begin by laying flat on your back with your arms extended at your side. While keeping your legs straight, extend one leg at a time toward the opposite side, think “toe to hand.” Try not to rotate too quickly or over-extend; you could pull a muscle in your back or your leg. Alternate rotating and extending each leg, I usually perform ten to fifteen reps on each side.
The opposite of the “Iron-Cross” is the “Scorpion.” This stretches your hips (Gluteus medius and Tensor Fasciae Latae), Quadriceps (thighs or quads), and your lower back. Start by laying flat on your stomach, with your arms extended out to your side, again the exact opposite of the “Iron-Cross.” Once again extend each leg toward the opposite arm, thinking “toes to hand.” Remembering not to rotate too quickly or over-extend, and just like the “Iron-cross” stretch, try to perform ten to fifteen reps on each side.
These basic stretches can be used to stretch and warm-up before any back workout, an Olympic lifting routine (more on those in later articles and posts), or even to alleviate minor back and hip pain when you get out of bed in the morning. There will be more stretching and warm-up routines to come in the next few weeks, then the real workout routines begin!