The following is a series of stretches you can use to help get started on a routine of your own. These basic stretches can be the first moves toward a more flexible you.
Tilt head to right, keeping shoulders down. Place right hand on left side of head. Gently pull head toward right shoulder for 15 to 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
Calf stretch (for gastrocnemius andsoleus muscles).
Stand 2 to 3 feet from a wall, with feet perpendicular to wall, and lean against it for 10 to 30 seconds. Keep feet parallel to each other; make sure rear heel stays on floor. Switch legs and repeat. Variation: keep rear knee slightly bent during stretch.
Thigh stretch (for quadriceps).
Placing left hand against wall for balance, grab right ankle with right hand and pull heel gently toward buttocks for 10 to 30 seconds. Do not arch back. Switch sides and repeat.
Outer thigh stretch (for iliotibial band).
Placing left hand against wall for balance, place left foot behind and beyond right foot. Bend left ankle and lean into wall. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then switch and repeat.
Hip stretch (for hip flexor).
From a kneeling position, bring right foot forward until knee is directly over ankle; keep right foot straight. Rest left knee on floor behind you. Leaning into front knee, lower pelvis and front of left hip toward floor to create an easy stretch. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.
Butterfly stretch (for adductor muscles in groin).
Sit on floor, bringing heels together near groin and holding feet together. Have a partner gently push your legs down; hold for 5 seconds. Try to bring your knees upward as partner provides resistance. Relax, then have partner gently push down again for a greater stretch. Repeat. You can do the first part without a partner, simply by lowering your knees as far as possible.
Spinal twist (for back and sides).
Sit with right leg straight out, and left knee bent, with left foot placed on the outside of right knee. Bend right elbow and place it on outside of upper left thigh, just above knee, to keep that leg stationary. Place left hand behind you, slowly turn head to look over left shoulder, and twist upper body toward left arm. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
Crossover stretch (for lower back).
Lying on back, bend left knee at 90° and stretch arms out to sides. Place right hand on left thigh and pull that bent knee over right leg. Keeping head on floor, turn to look toward outstretched left arm. Pull bent left knee toward floor; keep shoulders flat on floor. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.
Thigh stretch (for hamstrings).
Lie on back with both knees bent. Grasp behind the right thigh with both hands and pull toward chest. Slowly straighten leg, keeping foot relaxed. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, then lower leg, switch legs, and repeat.
Lumbar stretch (for lower back).
Lying on back, clasp one hand under each knee. Gently pull both knees toward chest, keeping lower back on floor. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds, relax, then repeat.
Illustrations by Susan Blubaugh