Stretch much? Probably not. You’re a busy dad, and you barely have time to work out. But it’s important — increasingly so, as you get older and those once-supple ligaments start turning into something resembling rawhide chews. While cardio and strength training form the backbone of fitness, researchers and trainers agree that stretching belongs in the mix. Lower back stretches, hip flexor stretches, and hamstring stretches should be part of your daily routine; hip stretches, shoulder stretches, calf stretches, and even neck stretches wouldn’t hurt either.
Why? Because improving your range of motion allows you to do crazy stuff, like grab your son before he runs in the street with one arm while still keeping Fido on a short leash with the other. It helps you scale the jungle gym, play fort, find a better spot in hide-and-go-seek, and manipulate all those bags from Costco in the back of your family sedan without throwing your back out again. Equally important, stretching allows for a Zen moment of calm amid the chaos that is a young family’s household. It’s a chance to breathe in, breathe out, and focus on the here-and-now — even if the tranquility only lasts for a count of 10.
The 15 stretches described here target the major muscle groups and are pretty simple. A few ground rules: there’s no hard and fast time limit for each stretch, but 10 to 60 seconds is a good rule of thumb. Stretch to your limit, but not to the point of pain. And start slow.
- Hamstring hinge. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Hinge forward from the waist and reach your hands toward the floor, bending your knees slightly until your hands touch. Keeping your back straight, walk your hands forward on the floor until you reach an angle where you can straighten your legs. From there, walk your hands slowly back toward your feet, feeling the stretch in your hamstrings. Walk your hands forward again to relax the hamstrings, then back toward your feet.
- Overhead reach. Feet shoulder-width apart. Extend your arms toward the ceiling as high as you can, lifting your face skyward to feel a stretch in your neck and chest.
- Diagonal reach. Beginning from the stretch position in #2, drop your right shoulder and reach your left arm toward the sky, feeling a stretch down the left side of your body. Hold, relax, and repeat on other side.
- Calf stretch. Face a wall. Placing your palms against the wall, chest-high, bend your knees and reach back with one foot into a lunge position. Straighten the back leg and try to push the heel into the floor, feeling the stretch in your calf. (For slight variation, keep the back knee bent, heel on floor, and bend deeper into the stretch).
- Side lunge. Stand with your feet wide apart. Bend your right leg about 45 degrees, keeping left leg straight. You should feel a gentle pull along the inner thigh/groin area of your left leg. (If you don’t feel anything, return to the start and set your feet even wider apart.) Hold the stretch while you breathe in and out, bending deeper for greater effect. Return to the start and repeat on opposite side.
- Glute stretch. Lie on your back, legs straight. Bend your right knee towards your chest, grasping your right shin with both hands. Gently pull the knee closer to your chest without forcing it. Hold, release, repeat on other side.
- Standing quad stretch. Find a spot near a high table or wall that you can use for balance. Stand with feet together, then raise your right heel toward your butt. Place your left arm against the wall or table for support, then grab your right ankle with your right hand, gently pulling your right foot closer to your butt. The goal is to keep your back straight and hips tucked under you. If you cannot achieve this pose without sticking your butt out, your quads/hips are too tight and you should skip this stretch.
- Modified quad stretch. Get down on one knee, as if you are about to propose. Lean into your front leg, pushing your hips forward until you fee a stretch along the top of your back leg. Hold, relax, switch legs, repeat.
- Chest stretch. Lie on the floor, face down. Bend elbows and place hands near your shoulders. Push through your palms as you slowly raise your torso off the floor. It doesn’t matter how high you can arch, the point is to feel a stretch from your neck, through your chest, down to your upper abs. Breathe in and out. Relax. Repeat if desired.
- Lower back stretch. Lie on your back, knees bent. Cross your right ankle over your left knee and let it rest there. Grabbing your left thigh with both hands, slowly pull your left knee toward your chest, allowing your right leg to move along with it. Stop once you feel a deep stretch and hold. Return to the start and switch sides.
- Overhead triceps stretch. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Raise both arms over your head, then bend your right elbow. Grab your right elbow with your left hand. Pushing your right shoulder down toward the ground, pull your right triceps toward your head. Hold, then release and repeat on the other side.
- Shoulder stretch. Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your arms straight out in front of you, then cross your right arm over your chest to the left side, keeping it straight. Grab your right triceps with your left hand (reach up from the bottom, not over the top), and gently pull your right arm deeper across your torso. Hold, release, repeat on the other side.
- Head rolls. Sitting in a comfortable position, slowly circle your head to the right, imagining a big clock face that you are tracing with your chin. Be sure to drop your chin down to your chest, then point it at your right shoulder, raise it to the ceiling, the lower it to your left shoulder. Circle several times in this direction, then reverse. If you don’t feel a stretch, deepen the angles of rotation until you do.
- Iliotibial band stretch. Stand with feet side-by-side. Step right leg over the left, keeping legs straight but with soft knees (i.e., don’t lock them). Raise left arm and stretch it over your head to the right side, bend your torso to the right to increase the stretch. Return to start, repeat on other side.
- Whole body stretch. Lie prone on floor, legs straight, arms overhead. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, stretch arms and legs as far away from your core as you can, feeling the stretch top to bottom. Hold, then relax. Repeat.