By Lexi Lampel
Even if your toes seem miles away when you reach down to touch them, you can still aim to become as limber as Olympic figure-skating champ Gracie Gold. OK, maybe that’s a stretch... but improved flexibility is just as important for you as it is for her. Staying loose increases range of motion, prevents injuries and reduces muscle tension from inactivity (like the kind that occurs when you're hunched over your desk all day). According to U.S. Figure Skating's official handbook, stretching can also delay the onset of muscle fatigue.
Keep in mind, however, that stretching one muscle at a time isn’t the best way to go. “If you’re focused on one muscle group and don’t think about the adjacent muscle groups, you’re more susceptible to injury,” says figure-skating champion Angela Smith, a Delaware-based orthopedic surgeon and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.
Before trying the multi-muscle mini-routine described below, warm up with some cardio for about five minutes. (Cardio increases your blood flow, heart rate and muscle temperature so your muscles are more limber.) Almost anything you were taught back in gym class works, like jumping jacks or jogging in place.
Targets: Glutes, hip flexors, lower abs
Lie face-up. Pull your right knee to your chest, left leg extended on the floor. Focus on those two actions: pulling your right knee and stretching and extending your left leg, foot flexed. Hold for five seconds, then release. Repeat five times, then switch legs. "For a deeper stretch that also loosens up your hamstrings and shoulders, clasp your hands behind your right knee and extend the leg to the ceiling at 90 degrees, left leg extended on floor," advises Smith. "Gently pull the right leg toward you as you extend the left leg straight."
Targets: Hamstrings, middle back
Lie face-up with your butt against a wall and your legs extended up the wall, arms at sides. Hold the position for five to 10 minutes, depending on the tightness of your muscles. Make the stretch even deeper by spreading feet apart into a straddle position, so you’re not only stretching the hamstrings and the center of the back, but the inner hamstrings as well.
Forward Lunge Stretch
Targets: Hips, groin, thighs
Stand tall with your shoulders down and back, feet hip-width apart, arms at sides. Take a wide step forward and bend your front knee so your thigh is parallel to the floor. Keep your abs engaged. “As you do the lunge stretch, you have to be certain that you’re pulling the lower abs up and in so that you’re protecting the lower back,” Smith notes. Return to start. Do 12 repetitions, then switch sides.