Let’s get flexible

This post is the fourth in BlogHer’s Inspiration to Fitness series.  To start from week one, click here.  Our first 2 workouts can be found here and here.

How was your first strength workout last week?  Did you enjoy the circuit?  Were any of the exercises particularly challenging?  Are you sore?  If you’re really sore, don’t worry.  The more you do this workout, the better you will feel.  This week’s strength workout incorporates some of the same exercises as last week and adds some new challenges too.

One thing I want to make sure of is that you’re taking the time to do the full stretching routine each day.  Many times we tend to focus so much on the cardio and strength elements to our workouts that we neglect the third equally important element of flexibility training.

Flexibility training has many benefits including better range of motion, improved posture, decreased muscle tension and soreness, and reduced risk of injury.  And, since we’re focusing on heart health through this project, you will be excited to know that improved flexibility correlates to better heart health.  A recent study shows that less flexible people tend to have stiffer arteries.  The ability to touch your toes could mean a healthier heart!

If you’re sitting there thinking, “Uh oh, I can’t touch my toes” don’t worry, it’s pretty easy to improve your flexibility, you just have to be consistent with it.  Believe me, I used to be a good 6 inches from touching my toes, and now I can grab them.

Go through the stretches as outlined in this workout, making sure to exhale and relax into the stretch.  Hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds without bouncing.  This is important!  For the first 15-20 seconds, your body is fighting against the stretch in order to protect the muscle.  As you hold the position, the muscle is finally allowed to relax and lengthen.  If you pay attention, you can feel your body relax and will be able to go a little bit deeper into the stretch.

The foam roller will also help you increase flexibility by breaking down scar tissue and massaging your muscles and the fascia that surrounds them.  I won’t lie, foam rolling can be painful (especially on the IT band), but it will do more to prevent injury and help you feel better than any other tool you can buy.  If you can’t afford a massage after every workout (who can?), get a foam roller.

This week’s cardio homework is going to challenge you to complete 20 minutes at your target heart rate for a total of a 30-minute workout.  This should be challenging, but hopefully you are starting to get to that point where you feel excited and pumped up when you are at your RPE of 5-6.  Are you having fun yet?  After this week, we will start incorporating some interval training into your aerobic workouts which bring a whole new kind of fun.

On your three cardio days, I want you to do this:

-5 minute warmup at an RPE of 3

20 minute workout at a moderate pace RPE 5-6

-5 minute cooldown at an RPE of 3

On your three strength/flexibility days, I want you to do this:

Dynamic Warmup

dynamic warmup arm circles

Make huge circles with your arms as fast as you can.  Do 15 forward, then 15 backwards.

jumping jacks

Do 15 jumping jacks.  Make them big, remember this is a dynamic warmup!

dynamic warmup frankenstein walk

Stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart.  Step forward with your right foot and kick your left foot as high as possible while reaching foward with your right hand to meet your left foot.  Repeat with opposite leg and hand.  Continue alternating legs for 15 repetitions.

dynamic arm swing

Standing with feet together, bring arms in front of your body and cross one over the other.  Swing them open then quickly back in front of your body.  Make big moves and complete 15 repetitions.

Core Exercises

prone iso abs

Remember our iso abs exercise from last week?  This is the same thing just in a different position.  On hands and knees, without straining your neck (I should probably be looking down in this photo), pull your bellybutton up towards your spine.  Hold and release.  Repeat 15 times.

cat camel exercise

From a hands and knees position, bring your bellybutton towards your spine and pull your shoulders down and back.  Exhale and push your spine up using your abdominal muscles.  Hold for 10 seconds.  Inhale and push your spine down towards the floor.  Hold for 10 seconds.  Repeat.

single leg stand with abduction

Standing tall and keeping abs tight, place hands on hips and look straight ahead. Lift one foot slightly off the ground and extend out to the side.  Slowly lower leg to starting position and repeat.

Strength Exercises


wall sit exercise

Stand with your back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart about two feet from the wall.  Slowly slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground.  Your knees should be directly over your ankles.  Pressing your back into the wall, hold for up to 60 seconds keeping your hands up and off of your legs.

push up progression

This photo shows a push up progression from easiest to hardest. Choose the position in which you can do at least 8 push ups, but it is difficult to do 12. Hands should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart.

how to lunge
Step left foot out in front of you and lower your body toward the ground to form a right angle as shown above. Your right knee should come within about an inch from the ground. Make sure to keep head and shoulders upright. Pause for one second, then push up to starting position and repeat. Do all reps on one side before switching legs.

tricep dips

From a sitting position, place arms behind you with finger pointing forwards. Walk feet forward until your legs are extended as above. Lower body down towards the ground, then push up through your palms, squeezing your triceps. Repeat.

plie exercise

From a standing position, position your legs wider than hip-width apart with toes pointed out.  Lower into a squat position and hold.  Push up through your heels, squeezing your inner thighs, and push yourself back to standing.  Repeat

shoulder packing exercise

Standing with feet hip-width apart and bellybutton pulled towards your spine, place your arms by your side and look straight ahead.  Exhale and pull the shoulder blades down and back, squeezing them together.  Without letting your lower back arch OR allowing your head to go forward, hold the shoulder blades together for 5 seconds.  Release and repeat.


shoulder stretch
From a seated position, extend your right arm across your body in a straight line. Reach your left arm up and pull gently back on your right arm, stretching the shoulder. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat with other arm.

overhead tricep stretch
From a seated position, bring your left arm backwards and your right arm overhead. Gently pull down and back on your left arm, stretching the tricep. Keep your posture nice and tall while doing this stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat with other arm.

door chest stretch
Standing in a doorway, place hands on either side of the doorway at chest level. Take one step forward and allow the chest to stretch. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

quad stretch

Stand on your left leg and grab your right ankle directly behind you.  Keeping knees together, pull ankle towards your body really stretching out your thigh.  Make sure to keep your right knee facing straight down, don’t let it go out to the side.  Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat with left leg.

kneeling hip flexor stretch progression
From a kneeling position, bring left leg out front with foot flat on the ground. Push body forward through the hips, stretching that right hip flexor. Hold for 30 seconds, then bring right arm straight up, slightly twisting body to the right and leaning to the left to go further into the stretch. Hold for 20 more seconds then repeat process on opposite side.

seated hamstring stretch
From a seated position, extend left leg out front and bring right foot towards left thigh. Reach forward with your left arm as far as possible while keeping leg straight. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat on opposite leg.

glute stretch
From a kneeling position, cross right leg in front of body while extending left leg back. Place hands on floor and sink into the stretch. You can extend even further into the stretch by walking hands out front and bringing chest towards the floor. Hold for 30-60 seconds then repeat on opposite side.

child's pose
From a kneeling position, bring your arms out in front of you, sink your hips back into your heels, and rest your chest on your knees. Sink into the pose and relax all of your muscles. Hold for 30-60 seconds.

Foam Roller (optional)

foam roller it band
Lie on your right side and place your right hip onto the foam roller. Place your hands on the floor for support. Cross your left leg over your right with foot flat on the floor. Roll from your hip towards your knee in small movements. If you come across a spot that is particularly painful, hold the position for 30 seconds before moving on. Repeat on opposite side.

foam rolling the piriformis
Sit on foam roller with it positioned under your right glute. Cross your right leg over your left and lean into the muscle. Roll back and forth in small movements while shifting your body slightly to roll all of the muscle. If you find a spot that is particularly painful, hold for 30 seconds before continuing. Repeat on opposite leg.

foam rolling the back
Lie faceup with foam roller under your upper back and feet flat on the floor. Roll from the top of your back to the middle of your back in small movements with your hips elevated off the floor. If you find a spot that is particularly painful, hold for 30 seconds before moving on. Be sure not to roll your lower back as this could cause injury.


  • Claire @ Live and Love to Eat January 26, 2012 at 7:10 am

    I could definitely improve my flexibility – and some of my more recent yoga workouts feel more like strength training than stretching.

  • Stephanie January 26, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    You are inspiring…which is why I just gave you +K on Klout for Nutrition, Food, and Fitness.

    Also: your eyes are the most alarmingly beautiful shade of blue. Just thought you should know. 🙂