In addition to cardio, you must stretch the body out. Inflexibility is at least as common as obesity. Although not quite as dangerous from health standpoint, lack of flexibility is still a prerequisite to injury and certainly limits your ability to effectively burn fat doing cardio. Poor flexibility limits your level of physical activity and the degree to which you can comfortably challenge yourself physically in any way. Stretching is extremely important because quite a number of injuries can be traced to stiffness and limited range of motion. In general, flexibility and functionality go hand-in-hand. You don’t have to overdo it, since just a little stretching after your workouts is all it takes to maximize the benefits of exercise and minimize the likelihood of injury.

What I define as the “core” of the body includes the lower back and hips (the same area that tends to gain all the flab). My focus for flexibility is on this core region of the body. This is not to say that flexibility in all areas of the body is not beneficial, but merely to narrow my focus to what will result in the most dramatic improvements in the shortest period of time. Here are three basic stretches you can try:

Palm & Heel

Start by simply squatting down and placing both palms on the floor directly in front of your toes. While not raising your heels, gradually begin to stand up by straightening your legs. Stand up as much as possible while still keeping both your heels and palms completely in contact with the floor. With very few exceptions, you’ll find that you cannot even come close to standing up completely, but is to be expected. Get your legs as straight as you can while still keeping your palms and heels flat on the ground. Hold it for ~30 seconds. You should feel a gentle stretch through your hamstrings (the back of the legs) and lower back. Follow this by squatting back down for 5-10 seconds and repeating the stretch 2 more times. As your trunk flexibility improves, you will gradually come closer to straightening your legs.

Seated Twist

Seated upright on the floor, stretch your legs out in front of you and cross your right leg over your left leg. Slide your left hand between your thighs and grasp the back of your right leg, just above your knee. Next, reach back behind you and place your right hand on floor ~1 foot behind you and in line with the center of your back. As you do this, allow your upper body to rotate to the right. Be sure and keep your head facing directly straightforward and pointed slightly downward. Hold this position for ~30 seconds, slowly move back to the neutral position, uncross your legs, and repeat the same movement in the opposite direction. This position should be performed 5 times on each side.

Leg Over

Lying flat on the floor, stretch both arms straight out on either side (crucifix position). Begin by bringing your right knee up in the direction of your chest. Touch your right toe to the floor directly on the outside of your left knee. Be sure that both arms and both shoulder blades remain in full contact with the floor at all times. Hold this position for ~30 seconds, slowly move back to the neutral position and repeat the same movement with the other leg in the opposite direction. This is a relatively intense stretch, but should still be performed ~3 times on each side, to the best of your ability.