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Beneficial Stretching Exercises for Sportsmen to Ensure Flexibility and Agility

The world has entered a state of complete shutdown, with sporting events around the world being put on hold. This in turn has forced many professional athletes to take fitness and training into their own hands by conducting their own at-home training sessions.

But how does one go from everyday intense, monitored training, with state of the art equipment; to their own personal, at-home training without any equipment, with the additional fear of facing muscle, flexibility and agility loss?

We caught up with South African born Biokineticist; Sports Therapist; Pilates Instructor, Kyrah Fraser, who is currently applying her trade as a senior therapist for Mike Varney Physiotherapy in Essex, London.

After previously owning her own private bio kinetics practice in Boksburg, Gauteng for almost 10 years, she relocated to the UK to complete her master’s degree in sports therapy and has since continued to work as an independent practitioner.

Kyrah works mainly with musculoskeletal conditions but also has extensive experience in chronic disease and neurological rehabilitation. She is a firm advocate of “exercise is medicine” and encourages exercise as a source of comfort, motivation and inspiration across all areas of life.

Which is why there was no better person to chat to when it came down to finding 6 exercises that would benefit sportsmen during the lockdown and assist them in maintaining fitness flexibility and agility?

Firstly, what apparatus do they need for these exercises?

An exercise mat, a towel and comfortable clothing so that you can move freely. I have added equipment options to each exercise for those that may have these items at home.

Exercise 1: Chest and Shoulder flexibility

Name of exercise:

Thoracic openers with shoulder circumduction.

Explanation on how to do the exercise:

Lie on your side, knees bent with your arms outstretched in front of you – keep your feet, knees and hips stacked.

Slide your arm up and reach above your head to circle around your head and roll back so that your arms are eventually stretched out in a T-position. Focus on trying to stay in a side lying position so that this stretches into your chest, upper back and across your waist.

Suggested reps/workout routine:

Aim to complete 3-5 reps on each side.

It is important to focus on control and reach in this exercise rather than rushing through to get it done.

Why this exercise is beneficial:

The nature of our existence leads us to tighten into our chest and hunch in our upper back. Regular gym training will also shorten structures in the front of the shoulders which can often cause neck pain and even headaches.

This stretch will open up the joint and the muscles really nicely and it is easy to monitor your progress!

Exercise 2: Hip and lower back flexibility  

Name of exercise:

Leg drop stretch

Explanation on how to do the exercise:

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet placed just wider than your hips.

Drop both knees to the left, focus on keeping your knees down without arching your lower back off the floor.

This will stretch your thighs and into the front of your hips. Flattening your lower back will increase the stretch into the hips.

You can also try to bring your right foot up towards your bum to increase the stretch in the thigh.

Suggested reps/workout routine:

Hold for 45-60 seconds and try to repeat twice on each side.

Why this exercise is beneficial:

With increased periods of sitting we will all be shortening into our hip flexors. This can lead to lower back pain and poor hip mobility.  

If you have been training legs and included squats, dead lifts or split squats then you may also be tight around the pelvis without realising it.

This is a holistic stretch that targets structures in the lumbo-pelvic complex; protecting you from lower back injury while still opening the front of the hips.

Exercise 3: Lower body flexibility

Name of exercise:

Bilateral hamstring openers.

Explanation on how to do the exercise:

Grab a towel, size will depend on your height and hamstring flexibility.

Lie on your back with both knees bent, hold the towel in both hands and loop it under your feet, bring your legs up and then straighten them up to the ceiling. The towel should be taking on the weight of your legs so that you can relax into this position.

Aim to have both legs straight and your lower back on the floor.

Tip:

To increase the stretch, bring one leg down to the floor keeping both knees straight and without arching or twisting in your lower back.

Suggested reps/workout routine:

Hold for 45-60 seconds, repeat twice.

Why this exercise is beneficial:

Increased sitting will compromise hamstring flexibility which also affects lower back posture and tightness.

Most of us will suffer with shortened hamstrings generally but regular training without the loosening up exercise means the hamstrings shorten even more. This is a really relaxing stretch as well giving you time to gather your thoughts and gain flexibility at the same time!

Exercise 4: Core stability

Name of exercise:

Dead bug.

Explanation on how to do the exercise:

Lying on your back, raise your arms above your chest and bring your legs into a table top position (knees above hips and bent to 90°). Focus on imprinting your lower back into the mat to ensure you recruit lower abs and pelvic floor.

Slowly extend your right arm and left leg away from your mid-line and bring them back to the start position.

Alternate sides until you have done 10-15 on each side. Only extend as far as you can control your arm & leg without arching your lower back off the floor.

Suggested reps/workout routine:

2-3 sets of 10-15.

Tip:

You can add a weight into each hand or tie an exercise band around your knees.

Why this exercise is beneficial:

This is the basic of core exercise! Developing a strong core is all about control during movement. This is also a really nice exercise to build on by adding weights or a foam roller or even a bosu when you strong and stable enough.

Exercise 5: Upper body dynamic strength

Name of exercise:

Plank push up.

Explanation on how to do the exercise:

Start on all fours, hands directly below shoulders and your head in a neutral position (not staring at your knees!).

Extend your legs keeping your feet shoulder width apart. Be sure to tuck your bum, think about lifting your belly button up without holding your breath.

Maintaining your plank stability, drop down on to your right elbow, then left elbow, then push yourself up on to your right hand and then left hand. Repeat this combination 10 times before switching sides.

Tip:

To make it more challenging put your feet on a stability ball/bosu or add a set of pike planks at the end.

Pike plank – starting in plank position, push yourself up into a pike and reach your right hand to your left foot, return to plank and then pike up and reach your left hand to your left foot. Repeat 10 on each side before resting.

You can add weights into this if you after a top challenge.

Suggested reps/workout routine:

2-3 sets of 10-15 reps each side.

Why this exercise is beneficial:

Loading your upper body in this position is really good for strength as well as cardiovascular fitness. Targeting core stability while having to focus on movement will support endurance and conditioning.

Exercise 6: Lower body dynamic strength

Name of exercise:

Hip thrusts

Explanation on how to do the exercise:

Lay on your back with knees bent to 90°, feet flat on the floor and placed hip width apart. Place your arms out in T position to target stability a bit more. Push heels down into the ground (without lifting toes) and push your bum up. Do not flare through your ribcage – you wanting to push your pelvis up without arching your back.

This is the basic position; try a few of the variations below:

  • Raise one leg up and then lift and lower 10-15 times
  • Place feet on a bench/ball/bosu/foam roller
  • Tie an exercise band around your knees
  • Hold a weight above your chest

Why this exercise is beneficial:

The classic glute bridge is often underrated but recent research suggests that it targets glutes and hamstrings better than squats and dead lifts!

Do not underestimate the effectiveness of this exercise. In a rehab setting we use this exercise to develop core control, protecting the lower back and offloading tight muscle that limit the glutes from getting involved in movement. Most of us neglect glute recruitment.

It is also an excellent base exercise to build up using stability equipment and adding weights.

Suggested reps/workout:

3-4 sets of 20 reps.

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS:

What pre-workout snack do you recommend before this workout?

A protein shake, or a banana is always a good go-to snack. As long as you don’t start this session hungry you will be ok. Keep water or your preference of drink nearby and drink to thirst.

Can you combine all 5 stretches into one workout routine?

Yes, you definitely can! I have tried to include exercises that almost anyone could do but that are also most beneficial to the fittest of us all. These are basic exercises that will target areas we tend to neglect most effectively. Performing these a few times a week will definitely get your core and stability back on track during lockdown.

Can these stretches be performed daily?

Of course! Try to be creative with the strengthening variations and challenge yourself.

What’s your pro tip?

If you are injured or feeling less ready to attempt these please don’t push through any discomfort or pain! I am happy to adapt these to different people if I am given details of injury or issues.

It’s not necessarily about the difficulty of the exercise but rather the fact that you are doing it and getting your body to move differently that counts.

Exercise should be enjoyable and fun too!

If you have any fitness or injury related questions, feel free to contact Kyrah on knfraser08@gmail.com

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