by Lauren Teng, fitness blogger
Spend your days in the professional cycling world like Juan, and you know that strength is enhanced with flexibility. It makes sense, after all. If you’re muscles are longer and stronger, you’ll reap greater power.
So after you get a mild or serious sweat going with some cardio and a good stretch, loosen up your legs and hips while activating your core before you head off to lift with some leg swings.
First: Plant yourself an arm’s distance away from a wall with your feet firmly situated hip width apart. With your palm pressing into the wall, making sure you’ve made a right angle with the arm and the rest of your body, swing your inside leg up parallel. Keep the foot flexed and toe driving towards the ceiling. Think ‘quick up and slow to fall.’ By engaging your lower abs and pulling your belly button up and in towards your spine, you’ll be able to bring your leg up pretty rapidly. But make sure not to strain your hamstring—don’t just fling it up there, think about sending a surge of energy down your lower back, all the way through your leg, and out your heel. Once you’ve reached the top of that front swing, focus on engaging those same muscles again. This time, slow the leg as it comes down back through the parallel position without stopping, to the same peak but this time directly behind you. This second swing may be a bit lower to start. Front and back is one rep. Do 10 reps per set like Juan or adjust to what works for you. Don’t forget to switch sides!
Make this a regular practice and you’ll notice how your legs will gradually reach a higher point and you’ll achieve more flexibility and openness in your hips. It will not only remedy a lot of the tightness that occurs any time you work in the squat position, but you might find this will make sitting in long lectures or at your desk at night more bearable.
Then: Your shoulder isn’t the only ball-and-socket joint in your body but it’s often the only one we think of. Imagine what it would be like if we only used our arms vertically in the front plane of our body—we’d be cancelling out most of our mobility. The same is true for your hips. Don’t risk unnecessary injury or even a limited capacity to move; you want to develop your full range of motion in that area of the body that stands us upright and so you can move about as you wish. Follow Juan’s example and find that side space.
Stand with both your hands firmly pressed into the wall in front of you with your feet together. Press down your shoulders, engage your core and swing your right leg out to your right side with the toe in motion turning to face the ceiling. Think again to bring it up in a controlled and quick manner before you slow it down to swing back through the parallel starting position, and then across your body and left leg. See the third photo in Juan’s series. Notice how his foot is flexed and toe is pointing towards the ceiling again. Right to left is one rep. Juan does 10 reps in a set.
Take note of the tightness in your hip joint and its surrounding tendons, ligaments and muscles to gauge your flexibility and strength level. Just as in the first exercise, continue with this one to improve the openness or flexibility in your hips as well as strength in those important hip flexors.
Don’t do too much too soon! The first time at it, pay close attention to what is uncomfortable versus what is unsafe. The Marines say “pain is weakness leaving the body,” because pain is a major symptom of the strength and conditioning process. Pain in this context, however, is much different than the pain that causes injury. It’s important to be aware of this often acute line in your own body while expanding and enhancing your workout. So push yourself, but pay attention!