It’s not strange yoga has gained such popularity over the years, not to mention stayed so popular. Who doesn’t want to be strong AND flexible, two great benefits of practicing yoga. However, if you are a busy person like yours truly, you might not have an hour and a half to devote daily to yoga classes, nor the patience. (Which is why you probably should take up daily yoga classes, but that’s a whole other article:) Here are five exercises that will give you functional strength and help your flexibility. Repeat all exercises as many times as you can.
1. Pushups Followed by Downward Facing Dogs. Lower yourself into a traditional pushup. As you push yourself back up from the floor, instead of lowering yourself into another pushup, walk half a foot toward your feet. Push the heels of your palms and your actual heels into the ground and flatten your back. Your body should now be in a downward dog position. Hold for two seconds, then do another pushup and followed by the downward dog. This exercise strengthens your chest, arms, shoulders and core while stretching your calves, hamstrings, shoulders and lower back.
2. Side-to-Side Lunges. Side lunges are a great way to strengthen your entire legs and core, while also giving the insides of your thighs and lower calf muscles a great stretch. Check out this article on how to do a proper side lunge. Start small and make the lunges deeper and deeper as you get stronger and more flexible. Always keep your heel in the ground to get a good lower calf stretch.
3. Superman/Aviator Exercise. The superman exercise is a good back exercise that becomes even better if you extend your arms out to the sides instead of above your head. Imagine what those guys who jump out of airplanes look like as they’re free-falling, facing downward. Make sure you also turn your thumbs up to the ceiling as you lift your arms from the floor. By doing an “aviator” instead of a “superman,” you strengthen your entire upper back in addition to your lats, erectors and buttocks. (You hit those last three areas when you extend your arms above your head.) You also get a great pec stretch by doing the superman exercise this way.
4. Curtsy Lunges. The curtsy lunge is an excellent way to strengthen your legs, butt—especially the side of the butt—and core. The more you stick out your lunging leg to the side and turn the standing leg’s hip forward, the more you stretch your deep hip muscles and buttocks. When you master the curtsy lunge, add a diagonal high kick after having returned to a standing position. This way you also get a good hamstring stretch. You’re kicking the same leg your lunging with. (Avoid alternating legs with this more complicated lunge so you can fully focus on having good form. )
5. Spiderman Climb. Like the pushup, the Spiderman Climb exercise builds great chest and core strength. While this exercise got its name from the image of Spiderman climbing a wall, you, too, can cover an area—though I recommend the ground, not a wall:)—while doing this exercise. If you’re just starting out, master stationary Spidermans before moving your entire body in this quadrupled position across a distance. Each time you’ve completed that huge step up to your hand, push your crotch area downward for two seconds and you’ll get a great front hip stretch. Return your leg to the starting position.