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Still not getting the results you want from your exercise routine? Blame tight muscles, says Ashley Borden, a celebrity trainer based in Los Angeles. "When one muscle group, like your quads, is stiff, that prevents others, like your glutes, from firing correctly," she explains. End result: compromised performance (and calorie-burning ability), not to mention an increased risk of injury.
Old-school static stretches, where you bend and hold for what seems like an eternity, aren't necessarily the most effective approach to increase your flexibility. Borden swears instead by her "Stretch and Fire" method, which she uses to teach clients like Mandy Moore. Based on a principle called Active-Isolated Technique, it involves contracting one muscle group while stretching the other. This triggers a muscular reflex that will increase your range of motion and deepen the stretch. Best of all, her workout -- which targets most women's tightest muscles -- takes just minutes a day.
Try these six stretches after your regular cardio or strength workout (aim to do them five times a week). You'll see improvement to your flexibility in as little as two weeks and gains in both your strength and endurance in less than one month.
Target: The Piriformis (a deep gluteal muscle)
Target: Lower Back
Question: "What's the best time to stretch -- before or after a workout?"
Answer: "Some studies have shown that stretching right before exercise can actually hamper performance," says Mike Bracko, EdD, director of the Institute for Hockey Research in Calgary, Alberta, and a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine.
One Theory: When you stretch, protein filaments in the muscles expand, then stay elongated for a short time, making the muscle weaker for about 10 to 15 minutes. Better? Warm up to increase blood flow, then stretch post-workout, when your muscles are more flexible.
You've probably heard that Kegel exercises will strengthen your pelvic floor after pregnancy and ramp up your sex life anytime. But these moves (developed by Arnold Kegel, MD, in the late 1940s) are also crucial to building a firm foundation for any movement, says trainer Ashley Borden.
"It's vital to strengthen both the muscles of your pelvic floor and your deep abdominals," she notes. "These muscles work together to create a solid base on which everything else can build."Build Up Your Pelvic Floor and Deep Abdominals
Originally published in Fitness magazine, March 2005.