Month: October 2016

Best Lower-Body Post Workout Stretches

Best Lower-Body Post Workout Stretches

Last week’s FlexFriday post was all about stretching: what it is, why it’s important and how flexibility training (a.k.a. stretches) can help to increase your overall fitness.

As promised, this week I’m sharing three of my favourite stretches. I decided to focus on the lower body, specifically legs, hips and glutes, because these are three areas that are constantly overworked and can cause a whole range of injuries when they’re not stretched out properly.

Each of these stretches should be held for approximately 10-15 seconds (if you’re looking to maintain your current flexibility) or 20-30 seconds (if you’re looking to develop your flexibility further).

Adductor Stretch

Level: Easy

This stretch is brilliant because of its simplicity. Simply sit down and place the soles of your feet together, leaning forewards until you feel the tension in the inner thighs. If you don’t feel anything at all you can always sit in a straddle position instead. The important thing to remember is that in order to get the maximum stretch in your legs, you have to make sure that you don’t compensate when leaning forwards by rounding your back.

This is pretty easy for those of us with metal spines.

Lower Body Stretches

If you’ve ever experienced Groin Strain after working out or playing sport, it’ll be because you didn’t stretch out these muscles!

Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch

Level: Moderate

I’d say that this Lunging Hip Flexor stretch is probably one of my favourites, because it’s gives a really satisfying stretch along the front of the hip flexors, which for me, seem to always be tight. It’s useful because you can control how much of a stretch you get – and also exactly what part of the hip flexor is being stretched – simply by playing with and shifting the position of your pelvis.

That sounds complicated…but it’s honestly very simple once you get the hang of it.

Kneel on the floor so that one leg is bent and the other leg is extended behind you. Placing your hands in-front of you, on the floor or the mat, for support, lean forwards and sideways so that you’re pushing (gently!) your weight into the hip of the extended leg. If you can’t feel it it’ll be because you’re leaning slightly too far forwards- make sure you’re upper body is upright and you’ll soon feel the tug!

Hip Stretches

Hip flexors tighten up quickly if you do a lot of abdominal exercises, because they get involved to help the abs achieve the movement. In fact, they tend to get involved with most lower body exercises- so this one is definitely not one to neglect!

N.B. If you want to be super on it, and if you’re flexible enough, you can add in a really effective quadriceps stretch in. Simple bend the extended leg, grabbing it’s ankle with one of your hands (either opposite hand or same-side, whichever you find easiest). Keeping your body upright, bring the foot of the back leg in towards your bum – you’ll feel it right down the front of the thigh.

Double Hamstring/Glutes Stretches

Level: Difficult

It’s always satisfying when you manage to kill two birds with one stone – which is exactly why this double hamstring/glute stretch is so great. It can be tricky if you’re not used to training flexibility and do make sure that you’re nice and warm before it’s attempted! This one is perfect for pushing your flexibility that little bit further, so it’s known as a developmental stretch.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor (semi-supine). Take the ankle of one leg and gently rest it across the bent knee of the other leg, creating a triangle shape.

Reach both hands through the middle of the triangle, placing them behind the thigh of the resting leg.

You can now lift the resting leg off the floor, bringing the knee to your chest, which will result in a super-satisfying stretch in the glutes of the leg that is resting on the other one.

Once you’re used to the glute stretch, you can try to straighten the leg that you are hugging towards your chest, aiming to get the foot of this leg as close to your head as possible, without actually lifting the buttocks off the floor.

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If this is too difficult, opt for either the Glute stretch (without straightening the second leg) OR the hamstring stretch, where you don’t do the whole knee-crossing and you simply leave one foot on the floor whilst lifting the other leg, straightened, towards your head.

 

What are your favourite post-workout stretches?

Lower Body Stretches

Chipotle-Bean Chilli, Roasted Squash & Avocado Salsa

Chipotle-Bean Chilli, Roasted Squash & Avocado Salsa

This Chipotle-Bean Chilli is a wonderful recipe for cold autumnal nights – it really warms you up, plus it’s both filling and healthy, which is always a bonus! It’s also completely vegan, provided that you don’t decide to add any sour cream or cheese (which I often do!).

You don’t have to add the coriander (I know that a lot of people don’t like it) but I do think that it really adds something to the taste of the whole thing.

Chipotle Bean Chilli

Chipotle paste can be found in most large supermarkets nowadays (in London anyway!). It’s very spicy, so if you aren’t a fan of hot food then be prepared! This is one of my favourites because it’s smoky and sweet as well as hot, and it goes very well with the fresh, zingy salsa and the richness of the bean/tomato combo in the stew.

Chipotle-Bean Chilli with Roasted Squash & Avocado Salsa

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Ingredients

For the Chilli

  • 1 Clove of Garlic, crushed
  • 1 Small Onion, diced
  • 1-2 Red Bell Peppers, chopped
  • 1 500g can Kidney Beans
  • 200g button mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp Chipotle Chilli Paste
  • 1 500g can chopped tomatoes
  • A couple of large handfuls of kale
  • 2 tsps Cumin
  • 2 tsps Turmeric
  • 1 tsp Paprika
  • A handful of fresh coriander, chopped

 

For the Squash

  • 2 tsps Coconut Oil
  • 1 Butternut Squash (small-medium, or half a large)
  • 2 tsps Paprika
  • 1 tsp Dried Chilli Flakes

 

For the Avocado Salsa

  • 2 Ripe Avocados
  • A handful of cherry tomatoes (approx 8-10)
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Salt

Chipotle Bean Chilli

 

Serve with warmed wholemeal tortilla wraps, or rice.

Serves 4

Method

Pre-heat the oven to 180 celsius (about 340 or so farenheit).

Start by chopping the butternut squash into cubes. I find it easiest to chop the stem off the narrow end then slice it right in half, lengthways. From there you can scoop out the seeds and then lay each piece flat to make the chopping easier. This doesn’t have to be precise and you can make them as large or small as you like. I usually chop off the thick skin as well, but I know that some people like to leave it on.

Chipotle Bean Chilli

Put all the squash into a roasting tin, along with a few dabs of coconut oil. Sprinkle with the paprika and chilli before putting it into the oven for approximately 30-40 minutes (depending on how big you chopped the squash up). Half way through, take the pan out the oven to give it all a good stir, making sure the spices and oils are evenly spread across the squash, before placing it back in the oven to cook.

When the squash goes into the oven, you can start on the chilli. Heat another tsp of coconut oil in a saucepan, over a medium-high heat.Throw in the onion and garlic when the oil starts to melt. When the onions have started to soften, add the peppers and mushrooms to the pan, stirring so that all the veg are well-combined. Add the Chipotle paste, stirring it over to cover the veg, and let them all cook together for about 5 minutes.

Chipotle Bean Chilli

 

Pour the kidney beans and canned, chopped tomatoes into the pan, adding the handfuls of kale, the coriander and the spices right away. Stir until it’s all combined and then turn down the heat, before leaving to stew for 20-30 mins or so.

Whilst the chilli and the squash are cooking, you can get on with making the salsa. Half the cherry tomatoes and place them into a serving bowl. Dice the avocado, and add to the tomatoes, along with the lime juice and salt. Stir until all mixed up and juicy.  

avocado-salsa

When you’re ready to eat, heat up some tortilla wraps in a warm oven (this will take all of two minutes if the oven is still hot from the squash! Pile it all onto a bowl or a plate, sprinkle some more fresh coriander to garnish, and enjoy!

Chipotle Bean Chilli

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Why you Should Never Forget to Stretch

Why you Should Never Forget to Stretch

I deliberately scheduled this post for “FlexFriday”  (as it is now known amongst avid hashtaggers) to draw attention to an aspect of fitness that is ridiculously important, yet categorically ignored. Flex doesn’t just stand for strength – it also stands for Flexibility.

Coming from a dance background, I was brought up in an environment that valued flexibility above pretty much anything else.

In the ballet world, a large proportion of each class is dedicated to improving and increasing the students’ flexibility, both at the end of barre, and at the end of the class too. As you get older and move up the grades, you get a routine telling off if you leave the studio without spending at least 15 minutes stretching out your hamstrings.

I vividly remember, at the age of 9 or 10 years old, straddling against the wall underneath the barre in the studio, the teacher coming up to each of us individually to push our bottoms as close as possible towards the wall to increase our flexibility for turnout.

Stretch - FlexFriday

Unfortunately the fitness world doesn’t seem to have this sense of discipline, especially when it comes to stretching. One of the biggest differences I have found since stopping dancing and starting lifting, is that the amount of people in the gym who actually save that 5-10 minutes at the end of their session to stretch out all their hard-worked muscles is astonishingly few.

Even many professionals that I have met along the way, including fitness instructors and personal trainers, have focused so much on the strength & conditioning component of their workout that flexibility has long been lost by the wayside. I knew one guy who could barely lift his arms above his head, such was his limited range of motion in the chest and shoulders. I knew another who could no longer sit cross-legged because his legs and glutes were so tight.

What’s the point in being super strong if it actually limits your day-to-day physical functioning?

 

The Science of Stretching & Flexibility

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Flexibility is generally thought of of your range of movement (or range of motion, ROM) through a joint. The greater the flexibility, the greater that range will be.

Muscles are full of of thick and thin myofilaments – tiny fibres inside the muscle structure that overlap with one another. When you contract, or tense up, the muscle becomes shorter because the thick and thin fibres overlap more. When you stretch, the reverse happens; the overlap between the thick and thin fibres decreases, fully elongating the muscle. When the muscle is fully stretched from the inside, the connective tissue at the ends of the muscle will also begin to stretch out.

When muscles have been placed under stress or tension, particularly during contraction, they will become shorter and tighter. The purpose of stretching is to lengthen them out again.

I was taught to think of stretching your muscles like an elastic band – if you pull it all of a sudden when it’s all tight then it’ll snap, but if you gradually stretch it a little each day, then soon the whole thing will be able to stretch further. We experience pain when stretching as it’s the brain’s way of letting us know if the elastic band is about to snap.

Stretch - FlexFriday

The Benefits of a Good Stretch

 

Improved physical performance

A flexible joint has a greater range of motion, and requires less energy to go through that range of motion, meaning you can spend your energy on working harder (either lifting heavier or going for more repetitions).

Less Chance of Injury

There’s lots of contradictory reports and evidence about stretching and injury prevention. Many people debate about the best way and the best time to stretch to reduce risk of injury – some people argue that it doesn’t help at all. The way I look at it, using the elastic band analogy, is that if you walk about your daily life every day as a really tight elastic band, then it won’t take much to snap you. However if you get rid of some of that tension after exercise by stretching, and even increase your flexibility, then you’ll be a super-supple elastic band that can take on anything….sort of?

Improved posture

Stretching can also help to improve muscle balance and posture by re-aligning soft tissue structures. This reduces the effort it takes to maintain good posture during day-to-day activities. An all round winner!

Increased blood and nutrients to tissues

Stretching increases the temperature of muscle tissue. This stimulates blood flow, which helps nutrients to circulate and be delivered around the body. With more nutrients, the muscles and surrounding tissues are able to achieve a greater elasticity, which will improve physical performance.

Stretch - FlexFriday

So the next time you’ve finished your workout, whether you’re stepping off the treadmill or unloading the weights from the squat rack, don’t just rush off to get as much protein and BCAA’s down you as you can manage. Take the time to stretch out, push your flexibility and release some of the tension that’s been building up in your muscles.

Chances are, you’ll recover faster and you won’t be as sore the next day.
Next week I’ll be sharing my top-favourite stretches – so if there’s an area where you’re really tight, let me know in the comments!