“Strength and Flexibility: Alone they’re good… Together they are great.” – MOTA
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. But you don’t have to necessarily become a yogi to become limber and strong. There are plenty of exercises that I will talk about below to help you with that. If you still think yoga is for you, be careful and don’t push yourself too hard. According to Marty Jaramillo, founder and CEO of ICE Sports Physical Therapy, yoga and CrossFit are the two main reasons his office has been so busy over the last decade. I have to agree it can be dangerous, as I have met many people who hurt themselves doing those activities.
Yoga is a rather time-consuming approach to gain agility. 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 eight exercises that will give you functional strength AND help your flexibility.
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 hands and your actual heels into the ground and flatten your back as much as possible. 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 back. Shoot for ten to twelve reps.
2. Side-to-Side Lunges. Side lunges are a great way to strengthen your entire legs, glutes, and core, while also giving the insides of your thighs–your abductors–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 longer and deeper as you get stronger and more flexible. Always keep your heel in the ground to get a good lower calf stretch. Hold each lunge in its deepest position for five seconds to increase your flexibility. Challenge yourself to get as close to the floor as possible, and then jump up from the floor as you stand back up again. Great interval cardio exercise! Go for ten to twelve reps each side.
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 the ground. 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. So do the exercise both ways.) You get a great pec stretch by doing the superman exercise the aviator way. As we age, the chest area tends to get very tight. Do fifteen to twenty reps.
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 your lunging leg to the side (behind you) and turn the standing leg’s hip forward, the more you stretch your deep hip muscles and buttocks. When you complete the curtsy lunge, stand back up at the same time as you kick the lunging leg diagonally as high as you can, then go back down into a another curtsy. Extend your arms to the sides like a ballerina each time you kick to maintain your balance. This way you also get a good hamstring stretch. You’re kicking the same leg your lunging with and avoid alternating legs. This lunge is already complicated and will challenge your form. Do ten to twelve each side.
5. Spider-man Exercise. Similar to the pushup, the Spider-man exercise builds great 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. As you get more flexible, challenge yourself by stepping beyond–or at least all the way up beside–your hand. Return your leg to the starting position. Repeat ten times on each side.
6. Straight Leg Kicks. This exercise strengthens your abdominals at the same time as it makes your hamstrings more flexible. Stand up tall, arms to the sides. Maintain both legs straight as you kick one up and forward as high as you can. Flex your feet and reach for the toes at the top of the kick. Make sure you use the opposite hand, meaning kick with left leg, reach with right hand. Repeat at least ten times on each side. More is better.
7. Inchworms. Imagine the way an inchworm moves. That’s exactly what you do when performing this exercise. It may be my favorite dynamic stretch/strength exercise. It specifically stretches your lower back and hamstrings, while strengthening your abs, arms and shoulders. Check out this guy doing traveling inchworms. You can start by doing stationary inchworms, meaning only your arms move back and forth. Your feet stay in the same position. Try ten to twenty inchworms and try to flatten your palms against the ground as your hands come to your feet.
8. Modified Reverse Dumbbell Fly. This is a good way to get a good thoracic spinal twist while also strengthening your upper back and rear deltoids. Stand a couple of feet away from a table or high bench while leaning forward, bending at the hips (not in the spine!) See how it’s done here. Then grab the table edge with one hand, However, unlike the guy in the video, stand with your feet side to side for better stability and also to get a deeper stretch. Grab a dumbbell with your other hand, then stick it as far as you can under the arm holding the table. Swing it up above you as far as you can. Be careful not to use a weight that’s very heavy, as the upper back muscles aren’t that big and strong. Repeat ten to fifteen times each side.
Do you know of any good dynamic, strengthening exercises that also make you flexible? Let me know in the comments!