"Breathe,"https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2023/feb/06/master-class-work-relaxing-stretches-into/"stretch" and "relax" are fitness terms generally used within a mind-body class setting (yoga, Pilates, etc.). They may creep into the vernacular of an avid runner from time to time. I'd like to see more fitness enthusiasts explore the benefits of these valuable activities.

This week, I will share some tips for bringing these concepts into any exercise routine. Plus, I will share a movement that includes each component in one simple action.

Somewhere along the line many were told that a fitness center is a place of serious business, hard work and a heightened state of awareness. Remembering, I can almost feel the edges of my mouth turn down as I entered gyms in my 20s -- as I approached workouts with an intensity and fire passed down from football coaches and pseudo experts.

These days, I smile during my gym entrance.

I view my gym as a place of recharge, respite and wellness. This viewpoint is influenced by decades of experience, but also a realization that workouts don't have to hurt to be helpful. Sometimes, I perform 20 minutes of cardio activity along with some light stretching, then hit the sauna for 10 minutes before exiting. Other days, my workout does include heavier weight training that requires intensity and focus.

The bottom line is, an exercise experience is what one expects it to be. The machines, weights and medicine balls are just sitting there, waiting for someone to activate them. But the way an individual approaches the workout makes all the difference.

Focused breathing, stretching and relaxing should all happen during every workout — especially the challenging sessions.

Think about breathing rhythmically, where exhalation occurs during exertion, inhalation during the rest. As a barbell is raised, exhale. Inhale as a barbell is lowered. Using this cadence will allow one to enter a nice zone where adequate oxygen is supplied to the working muscles.

Many reserve stretching for the end of the workout, which is fine for those engaging in cardiovascular activity. But weight-training sessions should include stretches throughout. Stretch the target muscles between sets, and maintain awareness of any tightness along the way.

Relaxing is a state of mind that can be achieved during any type of workout, but I always try to take a second between exercises to just sit. Even if it's 60 seconds, sitting and reflecting on what you've done while focusing on the next activity can be a useful transition period.

This week's exercise incorporates breathing, stretching and relaxing into a simple assignment. The Single Hamstring Roller Therapy movement is a great way to decompress after a workout, but it can be done any time and is appropriate for any fitness level.

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1. Grab a long, cylindrical foam roller and place it on the floor.

2. Position yourself on the floor with the foam roller underneath your left knee with the ends extending sideways.

3. Place your hands on the floor for balance, bend the right knee and place your right foot on the floor.

4. Your left leg should be fully extended with the foam roller underneath.

5. Slowly "walk" your body forward allowing the foam roller to roll up your left hamstring.

6. Continue rolling forward until the roller reaches your gluteal muscle, then reverse direction. Move very slowly and stop over any spots that feel tight or sore.

7. Continue rolling up and down the hamstring to work out sore spots for about 2 minutes, then switch legs.

This exercise feels great when combined with rhythmic breathing, a little hamstring stretch and relaxation. It really is therapeutic and an exercise that I always look forward to performing. Let the chill session begin!

Director of business development and population health solutions for Quest Diagnostics, Matt Parrott began this column Jan. 6, 2003, at Little Rock. He has a doctorate in education (sport studies), a master's in kinesiology and is certified by the American College of Sports Medicine.

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