Every time you go to yoga class or do some simple stretches, you know the poses and movements you're doing—but do you know exactly which muscles you're working? If you're like us, probably not.
So when we came across this story, originally published on Lifehack, we knew we had to share it. Not only are the images captivating, but as Sharen Ross, author of the article and co-founder of Mazlo, writes, "with this info, you can give yourself the nicest, best stretch." (Not to mention properly alter your technique if you sense any pain.)
Vicky Timón, author of Encyclopedia of Pilates Exercises, created the illustrations, and James Kilgallon, CSCS, creator of Mazlo's Body Maintenance Program, wrote the explanations for each drawing.
1. Camel Pose
Muscles highlighted: Rectus abdominus and external obliques. This stretch is best reserved for people who have good flexibility already. Sit on your heels and place your hands behind you as you push your hips up and forward. Avoiding putting too much pressure on your lumbar spine. If you have neck problems do not drop your head back.
2. Wide Forward Fold
Muscles highlighted: Adductors. This is a great exercise to open the hips and stretch the adductors and hamstrings. Start this stretch with your knees bent and spine straight. As your muscles begin to release you can slowly straighten your legs, round out your back, and reach for your feet. Lightly pull on the bottom of the balls of your feet to release the calf muscles as well. If you can not reach your feet you can use a belt or a towel. You can also perform this stretch lying on your back with your feet going up the wall.
3. Frog Pose
Muscles Highlighted: Adductors. This is a deep groin stretch that can place pressure on your knees so it's helpful to be on a soft surface. Start by resting on your hands and knees and slowly bring your knees wider until you feel a good stretch in your groin muscles. You will feel slight variations in the stretch as you actively push your hips back and forward.
4. Wide Side Lunge Pose
Muscles Highlighted: Adductors. Start with both feet forward in a wide stance with your legs as straight as possible. Slowly walk your hands to your right foot while bending your right knee and rotating your left toes up to the ceiling, sitting into your right hip. Keep your right foot flat on the ground.
5. Butterfly Stretch
Muscles Highlighted: Adductors. Start in a seated position and bring the soles of your feet together and sit tall through your sit bones. Progress this stretch by placing pressure on your knees with your hands. The closer your feet are to your body the more you will stretch your groin muscles. Bring your feet farther from your hips and slowly round your upper body to release your back muscles.
6. Forearm Extensor Stretch
Muscles Highlighted: Forearm extensor. Start by packing your shoulder down and back, then externally rotate the shoulder for the optimal position to stretch the forearm muscle. Once in this position apply pressure to your opposing hand to begin the stretch. You can progress this stretch by touching the tips of your fingers together in a tea cup shape.
7. Lateral Side Flexion of the Neck
Muscles Highlighted: Sternocleidomastoid (SCM). Try to keep your neck as long as possible while slowly dropping your ear to your shoulder, making sure you are not collapsing your cervical spine. You can progress this stretch by sitting on a chair and grabbing the bottom of the seat. This will help you create consistent tension down the arm and neck which will allow you to target the upper traps.
8. Neck Rotation Stretch
Muscles Highlighted: Sternocleidomastoid (SCM). Start by slowly rotating your neck, while keeping your chin slightly elevated to isolate the SCM. If you would like to get a deeper stretch apply pressure with the opposite hand from the direction that you are rotating.