Festive season flab – at a stretch

Planning to go running on some mountain track or to do some bumps and spikes with the beach volleyball crowd? Do these stretches first.

This is the season in which many people renew their gluttony membership. Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’re the type of guy who’ll make at least a moderate effort to monitor your intake of fare that well-meaning matriarchs lay out over the festive season.

And herein lies a risk: A lot of guys will let go for a few days, then go, "Oh heck, I'd better do some exercise." And so your haul out your cross-trainers and head out.

But having not done anything more vigorous than carry a crate of beer for a while, you hit the road and promptly strain a muscle. Disgruntled, you mutter, "Oh well, at least I tried," hobble over to the fridge and grab a beer.

It's avoidable, just by doing a couple of stretches. This combination of stretches is aimed at warming up some of the muscles most likely to pick up a strain or sprain.

  1. Your hamstrings will probably tell you they remember this one from soccer practice, or whatever it was you did at school. Sit flat on the ground, with your legs straight out, at right angles to each other. Reach forward and grab the ball of your one foot. Pull your body and feet towards each other. Don't yank at your foot, just pull steadily. Do this 10 times on each foot without pulling too hard.
  2. Unless you have superb balance, you'll need to hold onto something for this one. Stand up straight, bend your right knee so that you can reach behind you and grab your foot with your right hand. Hold it for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. You'll feel a satisfying sensation in the front of your thigh.
  3. Stand with your feet together and your hands behind your back. Now cross one ankle over the other. Bend at the hip and knees and lower yourself until your clasped hands can't move any further down the backs of your legs without you falling over. Now straighten slowly. Cross your ankles the other way and repeat.
  4. Simply stand with your feet together, legs straight, bend at the waist and touch your toes.
  5. Stand, feet together. Lift your right foot out in front of you as though you're kicking something very slowly. Bend your left knee and bend forward at the waist, keeping your back straight and pushing your butt out. Try pushing your hands onto the front of your thighs to steady yourself. You should feel some tension your hamstrings.
  6. Stand with your legs wide apart and turn sideways. Lunge forward gently to the right, keeping your left leg straight. Your left knee will bend, but don't move it over your feet. Return to the straight position and repeat on the other side.
  7. Do some basic upper-body stretches, legs apart, starting with your arms outstretched and far behind your head, moving them forward until you’re bent double.
  8. Crouch down on your haunches and walk. Some instructors call this the bunny walk, but most rabbits feel less of a protest in their legs than you'll feel in yours. But least now you're ready for some exercise.

One more point: Muscle stiffness isn't always a result of exercise. Your spine might be out of alignment. If you wake up with stiffness down the back of one leg or an especially sore spot on one calf, it may be time to see a doctor.

- (William Smook/Health24, updated December 2010)

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