S-T-R-E-T-C-H

| August 01, 2006

Mini workouts can improve circulation, flexibility and health.

Your body was made to move, but you can’t do much behind the wheel of a truck. Yet even just pausing for 10 minutes every time you stop to stretch and breathe can have a lasting impact on your energy, health and attitude.

The recommended daily exercise is 30 to 45 minutes of cardiovascular workout every day, which means that your heart rate should be elevated to the corresponding calorie-burning rate for your age and weight.

Since we can’t all jump on an exercise machine or jog three miles with our hectic and unpredictable schedules, it’s time to start thinking about ways to take care of your body on the road and for the rest of your life. Simple in-cab stretches and exercises are a great place to start. Not only are they easy, but you also don’t have to buy a lot of fancy equipment and spandex. All you need is a floor, a wall, a chair and, if you really want to get into it, a large exercise ball. You can find an exercise ball for only a few dollars at any store like Wal-Mart or Target. Just blow it up with an air pump and get going.

The benefits of stretching and simple exercise movements include improved circulation and flexibility, better posture – which is helpful to prevent the hunched-over position as you get older – stress relief and better coordination. Hold each stretch for 10 or more seconds, paying special attention to slow, relaxed breathing. Don’t bounce or pull your muscles because this can cause small tears in the muscle.

Try to do a stretch and exercise routine at least three times a week, and do a few simple stretches every time you step out of your truck. There are hundreds of basic stretching and exercise videos for relaxation and flexibility, so pick one up if you want some one-on-one instruction. A great one to try is Tamilee Webb’s Total Stretch for Beginners, which consists of three 10-minute stretches that are easy to do. Buy it online at www.amazon.com.

The following stretches can be done as a routine or alone. Mix them up to create your own personal stretch routine, and vary it week by week. The stretches cover your neck, back, shoulders, arms, legs and ankles. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water for energy and healthy blood flow.

Neck

  1. Stand up straight, shoulders relaxed. Close your eyes and take several deep, controlled breaths.

  2. Turn your head to your right shoulder, then to the middle again and then to the left. Repeat this three or four times. Then drop your chin to your chest, close your eyes and slowly roll your head to the right, then back so that you’re facing up and around to the left until you’re at the starting position again. Repeat this three or four times, and then start from the left, rolling your head all the way around. Keep your shoulders relaxed.

Back and shoulders

  1. Stand up straight, shoulders relaxed. Close your eyes and take several deep, controlled breaths.

  2. Place your hands on your lower back, breathe in and gently bend backwards, arching your back slightly and feeling the stretch in your back and shoulders. Hold it for 10 seconds and then repeat three or four times.
  3. If you have an exercise ball, lie on it with your chest facing upwards, and allow yourself to relax, letting your back arch against the natural contour of the ball. Roll backwards gently, feeling the stretch in your back and shoulders. Practice raising your arms above your head while you do this, feeling the stretch in your shoulders and upper back.
  4. In a chair, sit upright and clasp your hands behind your head. Arch your back and feel the tension in your shoulders and upper back. Gently pull your elbows back as far as you can. Hold for 10 seconds, then repeat.
  5. In a chair, grab the back of the chair and straighten your arms. Keep your back straight and let your upper body pull you forward to stretch your shoulders, upper back and chest. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat as desired.

Arms

  1. Either standing or sitting straight in a chair, raise one hand above your arm above your head, bending it at the elbow behind your head. Take your other hand and place it below your elbow, pulling back gently to feel the stretch in your tricep. Hold for 20 seconds, then repeat on opposite arm.

  2. Bring your arm directly across your chest and hold it with your other hand, again stretching your triceps. Hold it for 10 seconds, repeat and then switch arms.
  3. Stretch both arms over your head and interlock your fingers, pushing up toward the ceiling to stretch your shoulders, forearms and triceps. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat.
  4. Press your hands against a table or the floor to stretch your wrists and upper arms. These can get especially tense while you are driving. Press your palms against the table; then turn them over and press the backs against the table. Then press both hands against each other, using your own pressure to stretch each hand.

Legs

  1. Standing straight with one arm on a table or chair for support, grab one of your ankles to stretch your quadriceps, or the front of your thigh. Pull your foot gently, as if you were trying to touch your foot to your lower back, and hold for 30 seconds. Do not bounce or pull; just let the muscle stretch itself. Switch legs and repeat.

  2. Standing straight with legs bent, slowly lean over and reach for your toes. Don’t worry if you don’t touch them, but make sure your legs are bent or you will strain the backs of your legs and your back. Reach for 10 seconds, pause, then repeat. Then cross your right leg over your left and repeat the same stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, and then repeat with your left leg over your right leg.
  3. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched in front of you. You may remember this stretch from P.E. – the Sit and Reach. Gently reach for your toes and hold it for 10 seconds. Keep your legs as straight as you can. Repeat this stretch three or four times and remember to breathe.
  4. Sitting straight in a chair, cross one leg over the other. Roll your ankle to the right, to the left and to the right again. Do this stretch as long as you can because it can prevent varicose veins. Then lie on your back, legs straight in the air, and roll your ankles simultaneously.

Abdominals

  1. Stand straight, breathe deeply and stretch your arms into the air. Lean back slightly, arching your back to really stretch your abs. Lying on your back on the exercise ball will also stretch your abs.

  2. With your right hand on your hip, lean over your right side and reach your left hand in the air, toward the right. Hold for 10 seconds, repeat and then switch sides. This stretch works your oblique muscles, or the abdominals on the side of your torso, as well as your back.
  3. Lie on your back, legs outstretched and arms over your head. Breathe in deeply and stretch your arms and legs as far as they will go, feeling your hips and shoulders stretching. Then relax and repeat.

These stretches are a great way to warm up before exercise or to relieve tension after a long day, but any exercise should be combined with cardiovascular work and a healthy diet. Please consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.


Portable in-cab exercise equipment
Bicycle on-the-go

A folding bicycle is a good way to pack a lot of exercise into a small space. Most models unfold in seconds, and they can weigh as little as 19 pounds, perfect for the limited space of the truck cab. Prices range from about $300 to as much as $3,000, depending on the bike you want. Folding bikes come in every style from city cruiser to mountain bike. The Better Bicycle Company’s Dahon Jack ($399.95, www.dahon.com) is a rugged 7-speed city bike that folds in five seconds. Montague’s CX Comfort Bike ($449, www.montagueco.com) is a full-size bike with a wider seat, and it features the same folding mechanism and frame as the company’s military paratrooper bike. Bike Friday’s Pocket Tourist ($698, www.bikefriday.com) is a simple touring and city bike that weighs less than 27 pounds. Check out the websites for more information on how the bikes fold and where to buy them.

Balls and Mats
For alternative exercises and a great way to stretch, exercise balls are the way to go. The stability balls usually range from 30 cm to 75cm and larger, depending on your height. Exercise balls may vary depending on the store, and if in doubt, bigger is better. You should be able to sit comfortably on the ball with your knees and hips making a 90 degree angle or higher. To purchase a ball and coordinating stability ball programs, check out the Resist-A-Ball website at www.resistaball.com. To purchase a ball and a lot of other fun recreation equipment, go to the Shape Up Shop at www.shapupshop.com, click on “Fitness” and then click on “Exercise balls.”

A soft yoga mat creates a comfortable area to stretch and exercise. Check out the Shape Up Shop online or any major store like Target or Wal-Mart.

Weights and Resistance Bands
On top of daily cardiovascular exercise, weight training is important to strengthen muscles and increase your metabolism. A set of free weights and several resistance bands are portable and easy to use on the road. For weights, buy one set of dumbbells with adjustable weight plates that are easy to slide on and off. For resistance bands, buy two or three different colors that indicate varied resistance for a light or heavy workout. You can find both weights and resistance bands at any large store, or shop online at Amazon or the Shape Up Shop at www.shapupshop.com.

Jump Rope
Jumping rope is one of the best cardiovascular exercises around. Just a 10-minute jump every day can give you more energy and a better disposition. Invest in a strong jump rope made from a material other than plastic, such as real rope, because plastic has a tendency to break. Plus, plastic will really hurt the first few times you mess up and slap yourself in the shins.

The Truck Gym
This piece of equipment attaches directly to the passenger seat or driver seat of your truck with no drilling, just simple screws that snap into place. The Truck Gym comes with resistance bands that allow you to do leg, arm and abdominal workouts with 30 pounds of resistance. For purchasing information, go the Truck Gym website at www.thetruckgym.com.
Rachel Telehany

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