Full-Body Stretch in 10 Minutes , 0 Comments

Being a dancer, I have always felt the need to stretch. Exercise is vital for daily health, and spending just 10 minutes stretching can get your blood flowing and activate your muscles. While there's no need to break a sweat, increasing your circulation will give you an instant glow and perk up your mental faculties (making this stretch session perfect for when you're feeling that mid-afternoon slump). Since each body is different, you can incorporate different types of stretches to suit your needs (avoid neck pulls if you have stiff muscles, or focus more time on your legs if your calves are tight), but the order in which you warm up and stretch your muscles is the most important of all. 

The first thing to know is that it is best to work your way from the top down; this means starting with your head and neck, and finishing with your legs. I like to start my stretch sessions by doing head circles (rolling my skull on my neck 360 degrees), alternating between clockwise and counter clockwise. Even when doing a simple warm-up like this, you want to really sink into each movement. When I drop my head down, I try to push a little further than my head would naturally fall on its own. When it is fully flung back, I tilt it enough so that I can feel the stretch in the muscles on either side of my throat. Once I have done 4 or 5 circles in each direction, I stretch my neck and the tops of my shoulders by doing the following move: first, tilt your head to one side (as though you are trying to touch your ear to the top of your shoulder). Then, take the hand that is on the same side as the one your head is tilted towards, place it on the side of your head that is now upturned to the sky, and gently push your head further towards your shoulder. At the same time, use your opposite hand to pull your opposite shoulder down towards the ground. This should enable you to really stretch the sides of your neck.

After this, I move on to shoulder circles. I like to do at least 10 each way, backwards and forwards. When those are done, I hold my arm in front of me at a 90 degree angle to the floor, and then fold it so that my hand is resting on top of the opposite shoulder. From here, I use my other arm to gently push my bent elbow further towards the opposite shoulder, letting me stretch my shoulder blades and the top of my back. I follow this move with arm circles, again at least 10 each way, backwards and forwards. Next, it is time to engage the torso. To begin, hold your hands in front of your chest, with your elbows bent straight out to the sides. Twist from side to side, gently at first, without moving your hips (the goal is to isolate your movement just to your chest). After a few repetitions, start pushing into your twists to really get a stretch. This is also a great move to gently activate your obliques! I recommend doing a minute of torso twists to really get the blood flowing.

By now, you should feel pleasantly warm, and your body should be "waking up." It is time to move on to the hips and legs! The easiest way to quickly warm up the entire leg is to do lunges. With your hands on your hips, take a large step forward, then sink straight down until your back knee almost touches the floor. Without leaning your upper body, push to stand with both of your legs together again. Do at least 10 lunges for each leg, and then you're almost done! Standing with your feet together, pointing forward, gently roll your entire body down until your hands touch the floor. It is imperative to 'move through' this stretch, which means feeling each vertebrae in your back as it folds downward. Roll back up the same way you went down, and repeat this move 5 times. On the fifth time, don't roll back up. Instead, with your hands firmly on the floor, alternate bending a knee. In this position, when you bend your right knee, you will feel more of a stretch in the back of the left leg, and vice versa. Remember, never hold your breath when stretching! It is paramount to keep breathing at all times. I usually alternate bending my legs for at least 30 seconds before I roll back up.

And now you're almost done! I like to finish off my quick stretch sessions by activating the ankles with circles and forced arch presses. For the circles, start by rolling your feet outwards, away from the body, and then switch directions (5 circles each way ought to do it). After that, standing with your feet together and pointing forwards pop one leg so that only the balls of your feet and your toes are on the floor (your knee will be bent out in a 45 degree angle). From here, bend your standing leg and push into the bent foot. Do at least 10 forced arch presses for each leg, then shake it out! You'll feel energized and relaxed, and it will only have taken you 10 minutes to recharge. You can modify these stretches to your personal needs if you'd like, but this is the basis for any successful stretching session. Here's to being limber!

- Maria Vasylivna