One of the most overlooked aspects of a complete fitness program is flexibility. Regular stretching helps protect your joints from injury, plays a role in balance and coordination and reduces the likelihood of falls — something that's particularly important as we age.
This week is the fourth and final week of the 4-week fitness challenge, which means this week you have five days of workouts.
How it works:
This week's routine can be added to any of the other routines as a cool down, or it can be performed on its own. It's short — only about 10 minutes long — but by the end you'll feel relaxed and refreshed.
- What you'll need: Just your body
- The workout: Some of these stretches are static stretches, while others are more of a yoga flow; perform each exercise as detailed below
1. Chest opener: Static hold, 30 seconds
- Clasp your hands behind your back, your shoulders relaxed, your posture tall and ears stacked over shoulders, stacked over hips, knees and ankles.
- Lean back slightly and pull your hands down behind you to help open up your chest. You should feel a stretch in your chest and shoulders.
- Look up as you feel comfortable and breathe deeply through your nose for the full 30 seconds.
- Release your hands and return to standing.
2. Triceps side bends: Static stretch for 10 seconds per side, repeat twice
- Stand tall with good posture, your knees slightly bent, your feet hip-distance apart.
- Reach both hands up over your head, then bend your right elbow, dropping your right hand down the center of your back as you grasp just above your right elbow with your left hand.
- Pull your right elbow down slightly to stretch your right triceps, then turn your head to the right to look up at your elbow.
- Start bending slightly to the left from your waist to also stretch out the right side of your body. Hold for 10 seconds, return to standing and repeat on the opposite side.
- Perform the stretch to each side two times.
3. Overhead stretch to forward fold
Exercises 3 - 6 start a flow series of active stretching that starts out very similarly to a yoga sun salutation. Perform as a flow. Move smoothly between each pose as detailed, repeating steps five and six three times.
- Stand straight and tall, feet together, arms at your side.
- Reach your arms out and up, extending them over your head as you look up. Hold for three seconds, reaching higher on each inhale and focusing on relaxing your shoulders away from your ears on each exhale.
- Start lowering your arms out straight to each side, stopping when they're extended outward from your shoulders.
- "Swan dive" forward by tipping at your hips, keeping your torso straight and your core tight.
4. Forward fold to half fold
- Bend your knees slightly and continue folding at the hips reaching your hands toward the floor. You do not have to touch the ground — only go as far as feels comfortable to you.
- Inhale and tighten your core, lifting your torso up slightly so your back is straight and parallel to the ground.
5. Move to plank
- Exhale and lower your hands back toward the ground.
- Plant your palms, bending your knees as necessary to accommodate the movement.
- Inhale and step your feet behind you into a full push-up position, your core tight and straight. You should form a straight line from heels to head.
- Hold the plank for 10 seconds.
6. Lower to floor, move to up dog, then downward dog
- Exhale, bend your elbows and slowly lower your chest toward the floor. You can drop your knees to the ground if you need to.
- Once you're on the ground, untuck your toes, extending them behind you. Press through your palms and lift your head and chest up and forward, extending your elbows as far as you can, all while keeping your shoulders relaxed. This is a cobra or upward dog position. With cobra, your hips and thighs are still on the ground. With upward dog, your hips, thighs and even your shins may lift up off the ground as you engage your core.
- Tuck your toes, engage your core and press your hips back and up toward the ceiling until your body forms and inverted "V" in downward dog. Relax your head between your arms and check to make sure your feet are hip distance apart.
- Hold downward dog for 10 seconds, breathing slowly and steadily through your nose.
- Push back to plank and repeat the #5 and #6 stretch series three times (plank, lower to floor, cobra or upward dog and downward dog).
7. Walk the dog: Active stretching, 20 seconds
- Once you're done holding your third downward dog for 10 seconds, start walking out your legs to further stretch each calf.
- Bend your right knee, pressing strongly through the back of your left leg, then extend your right knee and bend your left knee, pressing strongly through the back of your right leg.
- Continue pedaling your feet back and forth like this for 20 seconds, holding each stretch for two breaths. It's a slow and controlled motion.
8. Runner's hip stretch: Active stretching, 60 seconds
- From downward dog, press yourself forward into a full push-up position.
- Keeping your back straight, step your right foot forward as far as you can, aiming to place it on the outside of your right hand. If you need to, lower left knee to the floor.
- Keeping your weight focused over your palms, press your hips slightly forward to engage and stretch your hip flexors. Do not bounce.
- Hold this position for five seconds, breathing steadily, then step your right foot back to plank position.
- Repeat on the opposite side, again holding for five seconds. Continue alternating between left and right sides for the full 60 seconds.
9. Cat-cow: Active stretching, 60 seconds
- Lower your knees to the ground so your knees are beneath your hips, your palms beneath your shoulders. Engage your core, with your back in a neutral, straight position.
- Inhale, lift your head up and look toward the ceiling as you allow your back to carefully cave.
- Exhale and reverse the movement, lowering your head between your arms as you arch your back as high as you can.
- With a slow and steady inhale-exhale pattern, continue the cat-cow sequence for the full 60 seconds.
10. Butterfly: Static hold, 60 seconds
- Sit on the ground with good posture, your back straight and tall. Draw your legs in toward your body, press the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to drop outward.
- Grasp your ankles and try to draw your heels in closer to your hips.
- Inhale, sit up taller then exhale, leaning forward over your feet while using your elbows to press your knees toward the ground. It's OK if they don't touch the ground!
- Keep your core engaged and hold for 20 seconds, release, then repeat two more times.
11. Hip twist: Static hold, 30 seconds per side
- Sit up tall and extend your legs in front of you.
- Bend your right knee and cross it over your left leg. Hug your right knee with your left arm.
- Inhale, sit up taller and reach your right arm behind you, twisting your torso to the right as you look over your right shoulder.
- Hold for 30 seconds, release, and repeat on the opposite side.
12. Easy twist: Static hold, 30 seconds per side
- Lie on your back, your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, hip-distance apart, your arms extended out from your sides.
- With controlled movements, allow both knees to fall to the left. Make sure both shoulders stay flat on the ground, and turn your head to the right, looking over your right shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Return your knees to center and hug your knees into your chest.
- Place your feet flat on the floor again and repeat, this time allowing your knees to fall to the right.
Images: Laura Williams for SheKnows
More four-week fitness challenge workouts
Week 1: The baseline workout
Week 2: The strength workout
Week 3: The endurance workout