One of the biggest problems in America today is lack of activity. We know it's good for us but avoid it like the plague either because we're used to being sedentary or afraid that exercise has to be vigorous to be worth our time. The truth is, movement is movement and the more you do, the healthier you'll be. Even moderate activities like chores, gardening and walking can make a difference.

Just adding a little movement to your life can:

  • Reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes
  • Improve joint stability
  • Increase and improve range of movement
  • Help maintain flexibility as you age
  • Maintain bone mass
  • Prevent osteoporosis and fractures
  • Improve mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression

  • Enhance self esteem
  • Improve memory in elderly people
  • Reduce stress

So, even if you opt for small changes and a more modest weight loss, you can see the benefits are still pretty good.

Warming up before any form of weight loss exercise

Before starting any exercise to lose weight you need to warm the body up thoroughly. There are three reasons for this:

  • To reduce the chance of the injury.

  • To increase blood flow to the working muscles and boost activity of neuromuscular pathways allowing them to be fully prepared for exercise.

  • To enable your joints to move more freely and prepare them for any stressful impacts.

A good warm up can help limit any discomfort or anxiety associated with long exercise sessions. It also enables the energy system to be “revved up” and “activated” to keep up with the pace of energy requirements.

Hamstring Stretch - Warm up Upper Legs

This stretch targets the hamstring muscles which are located at the back of the thighs. A hamstring stretch is particularly important if you intend to run to lose weight. If you start running three times per week then you'll need to make sure you are warmed up thoroughly before starting, for this reason you'll definitely need to do lots of hamstring stretches. Another version of the hamstring stretch is one where you bend over to touch the toes, this is a much more common stretch. I like this version as it allows you to wiggle the foot around at the same time helping to loosen up the ankle joint.

Be careful not to overstretch when warming up the hamstring muscles. Overstretching can put too much stress on the back of the knee.

How to do the Alternate Hamstring Stretch*

Start by lying on an exercise mat with your knees bent, your feet together and flat on the floor. Lift your right leg so that it is almost perpendicular to the floor. If possible try to slowly lock the knee joint at this point, if that is easy then reach up with both hands and hold the leg in position for 20 seconds. If that is also easy, slowly pull the leg an inch further towards your head and hold. Do this until you feel a slight stretch at the back of the hamstrings or knee joint then stop. As soon as you feel any stretch stop and hold for the count, unless you feel pain at any time, in this case stop the stretch immediately. After the right leg repeat the same technique for the left leg.

Chest Stretch - Hands behind the back

This is a great stretch for the chest, front shoulder and bicep muscles. It can help warm up most of the upper body in one, thus if short on time then the chest stretch is one with should be performed more than any other upper body stretch. Use this stretch as part of a warm up routine rather than trying to increase flexibility.

You should not try to push this stretch too far, too soon. Start off with the hands closer to the buttocks, as it becomes easier over the weeks you can slowly try to move the hands up a little at a time. Remember though, always remain within a comfortable stretch area for the chest stretch.

How to do the Chest Stretch*

Start in a seated or standing position. Using both hands reach around to your back until the hands meet in the middle. Grasp both hands together by interlocking the fingers, at this point the elbows should be unlocked. Now slowly push the shoulders back and straighten the arms until the elbows lock out - stop the stretch completely if you feel pain at any time! You should feel it pull slightly in the chest and maybe the arms. Hold the stretch for 20 - 30 seconds. Now gently unlock the elbows before releasing the hands.

If this stretch is easy then try to gently lift the hands upwards until you feel a slight stretch in the chest, shoulders or arms. The chest stretch can be tough so I would advise you perform this one under the guidance of a qualified instructor.

Ankle Stretch - warm up

This is less of a stretch and more of a movement to help loosen up the ankle joint. The ankle joint is subjected to a large number of impacts during many weight-bearing exercises, therefore this warm up technique is ideal if you intend to run or jog for an aerobic or cardio workout.

How to do the Ankle Joint Stretch*

Sit down on a comfortable, sturdy chair and lift the right leg up with the knee pointing outwards. Grab hold of your leg with your right hand just above the ankle joint. Using your left hand hold the bottom of your right foot firmly. Now pull the foot slowly towards your stomach area while relaxing the right ankle joint and foot, hold for 5 seconds. Now gently push the foot the opposite way, again hold for 5 seconds. Now rotate the ankle around clockwise in a slow and gentle manner. Repeat for the left ankle joint.

Lower Back Stretch - Sitting lean over

This is a stretch for the lower back, although it does help stretch all the other back muscles and the spine. Some may call it the spine stretch. It is a good stretch for warming up for the lower back when it's about to be put under strain; such as doing heavy weight exercises like squats or dead lifts. Some people may not even feel a stretch when doing this, however, it is still good for the circulation and to take the strain off the lower back.

How to do the Lower Back Spine Stretch*

Start by sitting on a strong, secure chair. Lift your arms up in front of you and slowly bend down and gradually reach for your feet. Try to feel for the stretch in the lower back area while holding this position for about 20 seconds. If this is easy you can try positioning the feet further away at the start of the stretch. Bending over with your feet further away will cause more stretch in the whole back.

Take care if you have problems with your back, if in doubt don't try this stretch!

Thigh Stretch - Upper Legs or Quadriceps Warm Up

This is a popular stretch for the thighs / quadriceps muscles of the upper legs. It also helps loosen up the knee joint increasing its range of motion. In fact this stretch is often used to help people with knee problems. The Quadriceps muscles are used heavily during weight-bearing exercise so the thigh stretch should be performed before any walking or jogging exercise to lose weight.

How to do the Thigh Quadriceps Stretch*

Stand near a wall or secure structure for support while performing this stretch. Stable yourself with the right hand while lifting the right foot behind your back. Using the left hand reach and grab the right foot, hold the foot firmly. Stand straight with the thighs pointing down to the floor, and gently push the foot further towards the lower back until you feel the slight stretch in the quadriceps or thigh muscles of the upper right leg. Hold the stretch for 20 - 30 seconds. Swap to the opposite side and repeat the thigh stretch for the left leg. If you struggle with this stretch then just try to hold the foot behind the back and don't push any further. This should be a fairly easy stretch but if it hurts at all stop doing it!

Shoulder and Triceps Stretch - Upper arm behind head

This is a great shoulder stretch that does two muscles at the same time. It stretches the posterior deltoid muscle (back head of shoulder), and the triceps muscles (back of the arm) together. This stretch will really loosen up the shoulder joint. It is ideal when doing heavy weight training for the upper body. This is much the reverse stretch to the chest stretch, which does the front shoulder head and the biceps. This one does the back shoulder and triceps. For this reason if you are pressed for time then they are probably going to be best for upper body warm up before exercising.

How to do the Shoulder/Triceps Stretch*

Start by lifting your right arm up in the air but keep the biceps close to the side of your head. Gently bend the right arm until your hand is comfortably touching the back of the neck. Using your left hand, hold the elbow of your right arm and gently pull the elbow backwards, pretend you are trying to get the elbow behind the head but you only want to pull a tiny bit. Stop pulling as soon as you feel the stretch in the shoulder or arms, hold this position for 20 - 30 seconds. Now repeat for the left arm.

This is a complicated and tough stretch so I would advise you perform this stretch under the guidance of a qualified instructor. If you are not very flexible in the shoulders and struggle to get in the starting position the do the other shoulder stretch instead.

Upper Back Lat Stretch - point hand upwards with fingers interlaced

Another great stretch for the lat muscles of the back. This also helps loosen the shoulder joint preparing it for exercise. Another good point to this stretch is that the wrists get stretch a little as well. Good for when training the back muscles such as a rowing movement.

How to do the Lat Back Stretch*

You can stand or sit to do this stretch. Start by interlacing your fingers, then turn the palms upward above your head as you slowly straighten your arms. I find it easier to arch my lower back slightly as my arms are nearly straight. Once you feel a slight stretch in the arms, shoulders or upper back the hold the position for 20 seconds.

Again don't force anything and try not to hold your breath when stretching.

Groin Stretch - Exercise Warm Up

This is an easy stretch to do for warming up the groin area before any weight loss exercise. It can be done in front of the TV at home and will take less than a minute to complete. The groin is one area many people forget to warm up before exercising. It is important to warm up this area thoroughly before exercise as any injury to the groin can be fairly painful, and may cause you to stop training resulting in less calories burned.

How to do the Groin Stretch*

Sit comfortably on a soft exercise mat or carpet. With your knees pointing outwards put the soles of your feet together and hold onto your toes. Rest your elbows around the shin area in line with the lower legs and make sure you feel stable. Gently pull yourself forward, bending from the hips until you feel a little stretch in the groin area. Do not bounce to stretch and try to keep the back straight at all times. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.

If you find it difficult or painful just to put your soles together then don't do this groin stretch!

Hip Flexor stretch

This is a very good stretch for the muscles around the hip area. The hip joint is involved in many different exercises and it's important that this area is fully warmed up and ready for any stress. This is a great stretch to do if you wish to perform squats in order to increase the metabolism to burn fat. Although it is a complicated stretch so you should perform this for the first time under the guidance of a qualified instructor.

You should start off stretching by only doing the basic, easy stretches. Once you have gained confidence, experience and lost weight then it may be the best time to try out more complex stretches like the hip stretch shown below.

How to do the Hip Joint Stretch*

From a standing point start this stretch by taking a long, single stride with your right leg. Slowly lower your upper body by using the right thigh to take most of the strain, place your hands on your right knee before lowering. As you lower keep the left leg lagged behind and feel for a slight stretch at the front above the quadriceps muscles. Once you feel the stretch hols the position for 10 - 20 seconds. Finish by drawing the left leg towards you so you can balance your body weight using both legs. Repeat the process to stretch the left hip side.

Buttock Stretch

This stretch loosens the buttocks, lower back muscles and hamstrings. It can be completed within a minute so fairly good to do if you're in a hurry. Do not strain during this stretch, and don't hold your breath. Try to relax all leg and back muscles and this stretch will feel easier.

Warm ups and stretching should be completed before attempting any exercise to lose weight or gain fitness. Take the time to warm up thoroughly and you should have a more effective workout.

How to do the Buttock Lower Back Stretch*

Using a soft mat or carpet lie down on your back and gently pull your left leg towards your chest. Keep the right leg straight. Grasp your hands together and hold the knee in this position for 20 - 30 seconds. Repeat for the right leg.

Neck Stretch and relax technique

The neck stretch can be done before exercise but could also be done every day, especially if working on a computer all day. This stretch can help relieve everyday stresses and strains, and help through headaches. Although you should be careful if you have any neck problems at all.

How to do the Neck Stretch*

Sit down on a comfortable chair and relax the shoulders. While breathing deeply let your head drop down slowly forwards until you feel the muscles in the back of the neck pull slightly. Hold this position for 10 seconds, then return back to the start. Push your head backwards slowly until you feel a slight stretch in the front of the neck, again hold for a count of 10. Return back to the start. Now repeat the process for the sides of the neck. Once completed you can try lowering the head again but this time roll the head around slowly three times, keep a straight back and breath deeply at all times.

Do not strain and be careful not to force the stretches in the neck, make sure this stretch is easy!