We can get new cars, new houses, and new winter coats, but we get only one body. Put in too many miles on the treadmill and you start feeling like a vintage Mustang that needs new parts.
“The cumulative stress of working out takes a toll on you, and your body needs to recover,” says Nicholas A. DiNubile, MD, author of Framework: Your 7-Step Program for Healthy Muscles, Bones, and Joints. He recommends using yoga to speed the recovery process. Asanas and deep breathing send oxygen to hard-to-reach places in your tendons, joints, and disks buried in your back. Plus, yoga poses fine-tune your agility and balance while working your entire body.
When you apply the yoga poses that follow, yoga becomes the perfect complement to machine-assisted workouts to give you a better gym workout. Before your high-intensity activity of choice, do the prep yoga poses to prime your muscles. Afterward, ease into another asana, the post yoga pose; you’ll be able to capitalize on the pliability of your muscles to stretch and restore your whole body. Both the warm-up and the cool-down take 5 minutes or less. Now go get loose. (No time to hit the gym? Then you need the fast, supereffective workouts in our new Fit in 10 DVD!)
Your Machine: The Treadmill
While the surface of a treadmill is more forgiving than the rugged outdoors, it’s not stress-free. “Treadmills encourage you to overstride,” which can lock up your pelvic muscles, among other problems, says Douglas Wisoff, a physical therapist in Boulder, CO. These poses balance you out no matter where you put in your miles.
Prep Pose: Lying Big Toe
To release hip, lower-back, and hamstring tension before you walk or run, lie on your back, then bring your right leg up at a 90-degree angle. If you can’t grab the big toe without taking your shoulders off the floor, place a strap or towel around your right foot. Make sure your left leg is grounded into the floor, then gently pull the raised right leg closer to the body.
If your back starts to round, keep the left knee bent with the sole of the foot on the floor. Internally rotate your leg slightly by rolling your right thigh inward to stretch your iliotibial band and the outside of your thigh. Again, make sure your left leg is grounded into the floor, then gently pull the right leg closer to your body. Concentrate on reaching the leg up as well as pulling it in toward your head and chest. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths. Repeat with the other leg.
Post Pose: Half Hero Variation
This is an intense quad and psoas stretch that will ward off thigh cramps. How intense? Sandra Safadirazieli, instructor at Piedmont Yoga Studio in Oakland, CA, calls it “ouch-asana.” So go easy; don’t overdo it. Start on all fours facing away from a wall, with your feet touching it. Bend your left knee back to the base of the wall so that your shin is against the wall and your toes point to the ceiling. From here, begin to lift your torso and feel a stretch in your left quad.
To deepen it, take your right foot and step into a lunge, making sure your right knee is stacked over the ankle. “This will access your quad even more,” Safadirazieli says. To deepen further, draw your tailbone toward the floor and place your hands on your front thigh or straighten your arms overhead. If you’re tight, you can place your hands on blocks on either side of your front foot. Hold for 5 to 10 full breaths in each phase (if you do both the leg up the wall and the lunge), and then slowly draw your left leg back down before switching sides.
MORE: 10 Exercises That Burn More Calories Than Running
Your Machine: The Elliptical
Low impact and high cardio make the elliptical machine your body’s favorite cross-trainer. But even this bone density–enhancing workout has pitfalls. Gripping the handrails, for example, can cause muscle tension throughout the body, especially the shoulders. And the elliptical running motion can yank on tight lower-back muscles. (Plus, you could be making things worse if you’re doing any of these 10 Mistakes You’re Making On The Elliptical.)
The first pose here creates greater range of motion in the hip joints, which reduces that pull. The second releases fascia and muscle tissue, so you don’t take tension home with you.
Prep Pose: Reclined Twist Variation
This variation will stretch your gluteal muscles and your spine, releasing compression and tightness. Lying on your back, cross your right thigh over your left—”like you’re sitting on a cocktail stool,” Safadirazieli says—and let your knees roll to the right side of your body. Bend your arms at the elbows, forearms parallel to one another. Hold for 5 to 10 breaths before crossing the other leg over and repeating on the other side.
Post Pose: Steady Cross-Legged Stretch
Sit cross-legged and breathe in and out three times. Place your hands on the floor in front of you and lift your hips. Then drop them back several inches behind where they just were, creating a larger diamond between groin, knees, and ankles and flattening out the front of the pelvis. On the inhale walk your hands out in front of you only as far as you can go without rounding your back. The spine should be absolutely straight as you begin to feel a warmth zip down your back in the lowest reaches of the seat and tail.
After a few comfortable breaths, try walking your hands out farther to stretch your shoulders and upper back, staying for several breaths. Walk yourself back and then switch sides by placing the opposite ankle in front. This is guaranteed to open up your hips, lower back, and shoulders. Your legs are also freer in the joints, and on the elliptical that all means low-back relief.
MORE: The 8-Week Walking Program That Torches Fat
Your Machine: Weights
Whether your flavor is machine-assisted or dumbbells, lifting weights builds muscle but often neglects some important, less showy areas. Yoga, on the other hand, lengthens and tones muscles in a symmetrical way. Lift and yoga-cize your muscles, and you have comprehensive coverage.
Prep Pose: Dolphin
Before weight lifting you want to get muscles ready to generate explosive spurts of power by increasing blood flow. This posture gets all the leg muscles firing and “brings circulation into your shoulder girdle,” according to Barbara Ruzansky, director of West Hartford Yoga in Connecticut. Sit up on your knees, and bring elbows to the floor, directly under shoulders. To gauge the correct distance, wrap your hands around the opposite biceps, then bring hands down so forearms and hands are firmly on the floor. Bring arms forward so forearms are now parallel to the sides of the mat, hands pointing straight ahead. Take a few breaths.
On the exhale straighten your legs so your body is suspended in the air, anchored only by toes and forearms. Push down through the forearms, lift the rib cage from shoulders, and press your sit bones back, heels toward floor. Keep your head off the floor as you hold for 5 breaths before coming down. Repeat for as many reps as you do in a weight lifting session.
Post Pose: Cow’s Head
This will open your hips and shoulders. Sit and cross one leg over the other, heels close to buttocks. Stretch your left arm out to the side. Arch your chest forward, then lower your arm, wrapping your left hand up behind and between your shoulder blades, fingers pointing up, palm facing out. Raise your right arm straight overhead, then bend your elbow so your right fingers come to your left fingers. Clasp your palms together if you can. Draw your right elbow up toward the ceiling and your left shoulder blade downward. Slightly tuck your chin but keep your chest lifted and your spine, neck, and head as straight as possible. Hold for 5 to 7 breaths before switching sides.
MORE: 5 Pain-Relieving Yoga Poses
Your Machine: The Bike
Our prep pose will release your upper back, shoulders, and neck to prepare for a ride, says Rudy Peirce, a yoga teacher and trainer at the Kripalu Center in Lenox, MA. Another imperative for cyclists, says Bruce Mitchell, a Denver yoga instructor who teaches at Mindful Cycling’s camps, is “to offset rounding of the lower back, which leads to pain and tightness from head to toe.”
The Camel, our post pose here, will strengthen your back while improving your posture to counter that riding position. It will also bring down your heart rate and give your legs their stability back so you can walk, not wobble, out of the spin studio.
Prep Pose: Standing Yoga Mudra
Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart. Interlace your hands down behind your back. Inhale deeply, and as you exhale begin to fold forward from your hips, bringing your hands and arms up and as far forward as you comfortably can. At first your knees can be bent, but as the body loosens, your legs can straighten and your hands may press farther forward. Shake your head a few times back and forth to make sure you are completely releasing any tension. Hold for 3 to 5 breaths or longer. To release, inhale as you lift the torso and lower the hands behind your back. Exhale and release the hands.
Post Pose: Camel
Kneel so your torso is perpendicular to the floor. Bring your hands to your sacrum, fingers pointed down. Your little fingers should be as close together as possible. “The key here is to keep your quads and hips pushed forward,” Mitchell says. Drop your head back. In the beginner version, just continue to reach your quads and hips forward. When that is comfortable, try dropping your hands back down to your heels. If you can’t quite reach them, go up on the balls of your feet. Hold for 5 to 15 breaths.
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