Personal trainer Bonnie Smith talks a lot about how our lives and work habits basically turn our bodies into tightly wound springs.
One area where it’s important to stay loose is the hips, because that helps the back.
“All day long, you’re using the front of your hip area, your hip flexors,” she says. By stretching the hamstrings you lengthen the muscles in the back of the leg.
One exercise stretches out the hamstrings and glutes, with a hip rotation thrown in for good measure. Here’s how it’s done:
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• Find a length of fabric. The belt of your terry-cloth robe will do, but a stretchy fitness band is better. Smith uses a wide, thin BodySport Exercise Band.
• Lie on the floor. Loop the band around your right foot and raise the foot up, until it starts to hurt a little.
• Bend the opposite knee, keeping that foot flat on the floor.
• Engage your abs, keeping your back on the floor.
• Move the right leg out, down and around, forming a counterclockwise circle.
• Bring the leg back to starting position.
• Keep the leg straight during the circular movement, and don’t move too quickly. “Slow and in control,” Smith says.
“It’s very important you don’t lift the (left) hip,” she adds. “If the hip is lifting, then you’re probably going too far out to the right” with the right leg.
Repeat with the other leg.
Once you’ve mastered this move, you can amp it up further by laying the left leg flat and then bringing the right leg across your body, to the left.
This stretches the piriformis, a band of muscle that runs across the hip joint that’s also near the sciatic nerve.
“If you have tight hamstrings, glutes and piriformis, you will most likely end up with some lower-back issues,” Smith says. “Another reason to stretch! Keep your muscles lengthened and you’ll have more space in your body.”