I see a wide variety of massage clients: triathletes, stressed out corporate workers with no time to exercise (aka my old self!), MS and arthritis sufferers, men who only exercise during golf season, student athletes, stay-at-home moms, and everyone in between. I give them all the same advice though—stretch EVERY single day, if not multiple times per day!
It seems the common belief is that you only need to stretch after exercising, but that’s far from the truth. Stretching is essentially a form of exercise in itself because it increases your flexibility and, therefore, your range of motion; increases circulation and gets fresh blood flowing to your tired muscles; reduces stress and centers your mind; and may even help prevent injury if you keep your muscles loose and agile. Just a few simple stretches before bed, first thing in the morning, and in the middle of the day can make a huge impact on your stress-levels and how your body feels.
When Should You Stretch?
If you’re wondering if now would be a good time to stretch, ask yourself the following questions throughout the day. If you can answer YES to one or more of these questions, then start stretching immediately!:
- Did I just wake up?
- Have I been sitting (at a desk, in the car, on the couch, etc.) for longer than an hour?
- Did I just walk around for more than 30 minutes?
- Have I been standing for more than 30 minutes?
- Am I about to go to bed?
You don’t have to memorize a whole yoga routine either. In fact, most of the stretching we learned as pre-schoolers will do just fine. If you’re actively working out, then I strongly recommend kicking it up a notch and learning more advanced moves that specifically target certain muscles, but combatting the daily stresses of life can be ironed out by very basic techniques. Here are some ideas!
Basic Stretching Ideas
At the Office
- Sit up straight. Placing your 2 middle fingers in your navel, say under your breath “ha. ha. ha.” as you pull your stomach in closer towards your spinal cord with each “ha.” This will reset your posture and support your lower back. (this is even more effective while standing up, but I know my cubical friends will appreciate not looking like a weirdo)
- Bring your right ear to your right shoulder. Hold for 30 seconds. For a deeper stretch, slowly and gently place your right hand on your head and pull closer towards your shoulder. Repeat on left side.
- Look up. Caution: When you’re hunched over a computer all day, this simple motion may hurt!
- Lace your fingers together and raise arms above your head for 30 seconds. Now lower straight in front of you and face palms towards computer screen. (Told you these were basic!)
- Walk around. You should be drinking lots of water anyway, so a great goal is to drink enough that you need to walk to the water cooler every hour.
Before & After Bedtime
- Stand up straight with feet hips-width apart. Placing your 2 middle fingers in your navel, say out loud, “ha. ha. ha.” as you pull your stomach in closer towards your spinal cord with each “ha.” This will reset your posture and support your lower back.
- As Sheriff Woody would say, “reach for the skyyyyy!” Lace fingers together. Now, bending from the hips only, lean to the left for 30 seconds, go back to center, and lean to the right for 30 seconds, back to center. Repeat if desired. (Guess what? You just did a yoga half-moon pose!)
- Sitting on the floor, place your legs, together, in front of you with your feet flexed toward your face. Now point your toes toward the floor. Flex back towards your face. Repeat a few times until you get all the cracks out of those tired ankles and feet!
- Now sitting up straight, place your hands on your thighs and slowly move them down your legs until you reach your maximum point of flexibility. It’s important here to keep your back straight. It’s not about hunching over to reach your toes. You’ll get a better, more effective stretch if you keep your back straight and bend from your hips—even if that means you can only touch your shins instead of your toes!
- Lay flat on your back with your knees up and feet flat on the floor. Press your back into the floor. Stay in this position until you feel your body relax.
- Lay flat on your stomach, face down, feet flat on the floor. Keeping the top of your foot on the floor, touch your big toes together and let your heels roll out (this is called “pigeon toed” in yoga). This simple position helps release your lower back and is GREAT after a day of walking or sitting.
- Sit up in cross-legged pose (or “Indian-style” as we used to be allowed to call it), place the back of your hands on each knee, and touch your pointer finger to your thumb. Close your eyes. If it’s the morning, clear your mind and visualize being awesome all day. If it’s the evening, clear your mind from all the stresses of the day. Focus on your blessings.
I told you these stretches were super basic and likely nothing new to you. Now it’s just a matter of making them a habit!