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Today’s Workout column: Downward dog pose will keep your body limber

Marlo Alleva
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Marlo Alleva demonstrates a downward dog stretch.

Stretching is one of the best things that we can do for our bodies. We can stretch when we first rise in the morning to awaken our bodies, midday to catch a second wind, and before and after any fitness regimen, all to prepare and loosen our muscles. It’s quite simple; we feel better and it can cut down on injury.

Stretching keeps our bodies limber and mobile, and in many instances, it’s just what the doctor ordered!

Our move today is a downward dog pose or stretch. This exercise is very popular in many yoga and Pilates formats, and is notably known to be beneficial for the whole body. You will simply need a flat surface for this stretch.

The easiest way to begin this stretching motion is to start on all fours in a tabletop position. Place your hands firmly on the ground, with your arms extended just below your shoulders. Press your navel toward the ceiling to engage the midsection. Keeping your bent knees just under your hips, keep everything squared up.

Once you feel sturdy, proceed to extend your legs up onto the balls of your feet, and slowly push back with the hips, getting a good extension in the legs. Focus on dropping the chest toward the floor and over exaggerate the stretch in the arms. Remember to keep your neck neutral the whole time you are in this downward dog position.

Continue to press through the hips to get the maximum amount of stretching, not only in the hips but through the back of your legs into your calves and ankles. If you find that your muscles are somewhat tighter than normal, you can keep the knees slightly bent and continue to hold this position on your toes. The idea is to aim toward your feet being flat on the ground and the legs being in a straight position.

Once you find the perfect position for your downward dog, try to hold this movement for at least a whole minute. If you cannot hold it that long, you’ll have something to slowly work toward.

After that minute you can release back down into your tabletop position for a small break, then proceed back into your downward dog position again. Try to get a deeper stretch and tone with each new hold.

You will find this stretch is perfect on its own for a complete body stretch. It also works well as a transitioning move in any yoga or Pilates workout.

Marlo Alleva, an instructor at Gold’s Gym and group fitness coordinator at Fontaine-Gills YMCA in Lakeland, Florida, can be reached at faluvzpa@msn.com.