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With so many fitness studios and gyms closing their doors in a bid to help flatten the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic, their members are turning to at-home workouts to fill the need for physical activity. As we’ve mentioned before, there has likely been no better time to prioritize exercise in our daily lives, both for physical and emotional reasons. Luckily, many studios are now recording and streaming virtual workouts so people can take advantage of their offerings at home (Hint: you don't have to just book local, change your location to anywhere you'd like and explore classes all over the world!). But before you move the coffee table and roll out the mat, there’s something you should remember: stretching.
Ah yes. Stretching. For many of us (though we’d never say it out loud) stretching before and after working out feels a bit like that pile of peas your mom made you eat as a kid: you know it’s good for you, but do I have to? The answer, I’m afraid, is yes—and even more so if you’re working out at home. Here are some best practices to help you prevent injury and make sure you’re getting the most of your incredibly valuable workouts.
Remember: any workout—even one done in your living room—is still a workout. If you’re about to do a 45-minute virtual class, don’t just give yourself 45 minutes. You need to give yourself time to arrange your space, get your water, and get your mind right before hitting play or joining that live stream. But you also need to give yourself time to get your body right too, and that brings us to…
Wait, what about stretching? Conventional wisdom dictates that you should stretch your muscles before beginning your physical activity, but mounting research is telling us that may not be such a great idea. Stretching your cold, stiff muscle fibers before they’re warmed up can actually hurt them. And because we're spending so much time at home, it’s likely our poor muscle fibers are tighter now than they've been in a long time.
If you’re following along with a live stream or on-demand workout, there will likely be some sort of instructor-led warm-up. That said, don’t assume that your virtual workout will provide exactly the kind of warm-up that you personally need. Without the trainer right there to keep you accountable and check your form, it’s super important to take steps to protect yourself and ensure you’re warmed up enough to begin.
According to McAlister Training co-owner and head trainer Michael McAlister, “Warming up is as important, if not more important, than the workout itself. Even from home, I encourage clients to warm-up just like they would at our studio. Before every class, I ask clients to foam roll, do hip lifts, and perform trunk rotations as a pre-warm-up. Then, we’ll warm-up together on-screen.”
So before reaching for those toes, spend a few minutes getting your blood moving to the areas you are going to stretch and exercise. A few other great ideas for some gentle (but effective) warm-ups include:
- High knees (or run in place)
- Holding a plank
- Air squats
Once you’re nice and warm, and maybe breathing a little heavier…
Properly stretching your muscles helps keep them long and flexible, improving your range of motion during the coming workout and protecting muscles and joints from potential injury like sprains and strains. But as important as stretching is, you can injure yourself just as easily doing it incorrectly as you can by skipping it entirely.
Enter your stretches slowly, and don’t overstretch to the point of pain. You should feel a satisfying pull, but if it hurts, you’ve gone too far. Combine static stretching—where you find your stretch and hold it for 30 seconds or more—with dynamic stretches like “cat-cow” where you move fluidly through a range of controlled motions. Feel free to concentrate on an area longer if you know you’re about to work that area out intensively or if you feel a lot of tightness there. And please, don’t bounce in your stretch—just stick with smooth, steady movements to avoid injuring yourself before you’ve even begun your workout.
During the workout, pay attention to areas of tightness/sensitivity you noticed during your stretching session (or any new ones you discover). Don’t “push through the pain” in problem areas or extend your muscles and joints past their natural range of motion. Basically, if it feels wrong, it is wrong. There’s absolutely no shame in modifying a move to protect yourself.
“If you’re attending live stream classes at the studio you regularly go to, reach out to your instructor(s), and let them know what you’re experiencing. Just like in a regular class, they’ll be happy to chat with you on the phone or through FaceTime, individually, to provide tips to modify and recover properly,” says McAlister.
Once you've counted down the final seconds of your workout and completed your last rep, you may be (justifiably) tempted to lay on the floor in a sweaty heap for a while before getting up to shower and carry on with your day. But do that and you’ll miss a huge opportunity to improve your overall mobility and flexibility.
As soon as your workout is over, cool down with some walking to bring your heart rate down in a controlled manner. Once you’ve caught your breath, it’s time to stretch again—and this one’s at least as important as the first. Think about it: your muscles are about as warm as they’re ever going to get, which makes it the perfect opportunity to work on conditioning those muscles and joints. Stretching can help lengthen and soothe your pumped-up muscles, which are now in a more contracted state after your workout.
Plus, stretching is just a nice closing ritual for ending a workout. It allows you to decompress after the physical demands you just placed on your body and gives you a moment of calm reflection before changing gears.
Just like working out, stretching only reveals its true potential when you do it consistently. If you’re inflexible now, you got that way over a long period of time—and that means it’s going to take time to improve it. You can’t expect a single high-quality stretch sesh to undo months or years of tightness. Stick with a good pre- and post-workout stretch routine, and one day you’ll notice those toes aren’t quite so far away, and your back doesn’t hurt so much when you do that one thing anymore.
Right now, a lot of people are re-evaluating what “normal” means for them, and many of them are finding ways to use this difficult time for self-improvement. Virtual, at-home workouts are a blessing, giving us ways to stay active and stay connected with our favorite studios and trainers (or try new ones!). But remember, you can protect yourself while you push yourself—you just might have to stretch yourself a bit.
It’s safe to say, the way we conquer our daily routines has changed drastically over the last few months. The way we perform our jobs, how we socialize—even the way we workout—have flipped from in-person, group settings to virtual platforms to keep us safe and healthy. There's no denying that navigating this new normal has certainly come with its ups and downs, to say the least. In fact, a recent survey revealed one-third of Americans said this pandemic has caused more stress and anxiety in their lives, which isn’t surprising given the circumstances.
With anxiety levels at a high, people need relaxation, self-care, and movement more than ever. Enter yoga.
Yoga has long been touted for its amazing ability to calm the mind and help folks stay in-tune with their body—which is probably why more and more people are embracing an at-home practice.
Whether you’re looking for a powerful Vinyasa class to help kickstart your morning or yearning for a gentle, evening flow to wind down after a busy workday, taking a yoga class is now more accessible than ever. With 91% of group fitness studios offering or planning to offer live stream and/or on-demand classes, those who are ready to get their asana on have plenty of yoga classes to try all over the country.
While there’s no place like om, most of us could go for a little virtual vacation right now. I know I could! Ready to get a taste of what yoga classes are like all over the country? Here are the U.S. cities with the most virtual yoga classes available.
It seems poetic that Chicago hits our number one spot on this list because it was the first city in America that was introduced to yoga back in 1893. Swami Vivekananda presented yoga at the World Parliament of Religions and made a speech on the concept of body, spirit, and mind. It seems the presentation made a lasting impression on the city.
Try getting your Zen on with one of these studios:
• The Lab Yoga
• Bottom Line Yoga
• Bare Feet Power Yoga
Everyone knows that Washington DC is where you can visit some of the world’s most famous monuments, memorials, and museums. But you may be surprised to learn that it also offers one of the most robust libraries of virtual classes to help yogis sample some classes at the nation’s capital.
Houston is one of the most culturally diverse cities in America—in fact, you can folks speaking 145 different languages and thousands of restaurants serving up food from more than 70 countries. If those facts have you working up quite an appetite, feel free to indulge. They also have plenty of virtual yoga classes available to help you torch some calories.
Did you know one of the first businesses to open in the City of Brotherly Love was a brewery in 1683? If you’re familiar with the ever-evolving trends of yoga, then you have most likely heard of or participated in beer yoga sesh. Get ready to try yoga the Philly way by cracking a cold one and doing some downward dogs in the comfort of your own home at the end of the day.
New York City is home to 8.4 million people, making it the most densely populated city in the entire nation. With that many people, you know there must be a ton of yogis looking to relax from the hustle and bustle of the big city. Start spreading the news and flowing with some of the most dedicated yogis in the U.S.—there are a ton of virtual yoga classes to choose from in the Big Apple.
Get ready to make some virtual yoga neighbors. Did you know that Columbus, Ohio is considered the heart of the country? The reason for that is because nearly half of the America’s residents live within a 600-mile radius of the city. Ready to put your heart and soul into your at-home yoga practice? Then check out what this city has to offer virtually.
San Diego is known as one of the happiest cities in America—mainly because of the beautiful weather, picturesque beaches, and the abundance of yoga classes available. While a vacation to this area may not be in the books for this year, you can certainly flow with the best of them by booking a virtual class at a San Diego studio.
This list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the yoga studios offering virtual classes to help you stay fit, healthy, and calm during the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope these offerings inspire you to either start a new at-home practice or are helping you seasoned yogis continue your path to wellness. Interested in seeing what other cities are hosting a bevy of online yoga classes? The options on Mindbody are endless—literally!