Have you ever felt like, while you were sleeping, someone snuck in and twisted you like a pretzel? You wake up, and it inconveniently takes you half an hour to feel even remotely aligned. When is the last time you stretched? When we think of stretching, we think of the activity as something to do before and/or after exercise. While it is very important to stretch with any physical performance, we should stretch routinely each day. A full body stretching routine is important for our bodies. Stretching provides our joints with mobility and flexibility, in turn keeping our muscles soft and resilient, while offsetting any wear and tear of daily life.
It is important to make a full body stretching routine part of your daily routine so that you can feel AND perform your best!
Full Body Stretching Routine
Flexible neck. There are many muscles involved in the extension and flexion of your neck. These muscles will often become stiff or painful with poor posture, sleep support or even stress. Taking just a few minutes each day to stretch the neck will greatly benefit your overall health.
Seated neck release. To stretch the neck muscles, sit straight up in a chair or, rested on the floor in a seated pose with knees together. The main goal is to be comfortable while sitting straight up (maintaining a straight spine). Take your chin straight down to your chest. Take your right arm and place on the back of your head and press the back of your head gently until you feel a stretch. Hold for 10 seconds. Then, tilt your head to the right (ear towards the top of shoulder) until you feel a stretch, hold for 10 seconds. Repeat this action but on your left side. Once your neck feels loose, you can release all your energy, letting the head drop—chin towards the chest. Letting gravity do the work, roll your head from left to right, stopping at each shoulder. Do this for one to two minutes or until neck feels relaxed.
Loose shoulders. One of the areas most associated with muscle stiffness or pain is the shoulders. This is because the shoulders are not used often throughout the day. For example, you carry in groceries, and you use your legs to walk and your arms to carry the bags. You sit hunched over at your desk in the office. Stretching the shoulders daily will ensure a better posture and help relieve tension associated with pain in the upper back and neck.
Threading the needle. To get a relaxing shoulder stretch, start out on all fours. Keep your knees slightly apart and directly underneath your hips. Make sure your back is straight, like a tabletop, and your hands down, elbows aligned with wrists and arms directly underneath the shoulders with palms spread. Take your right hand and “thread” it through the space between the left arm and left leg. Keeping this position, allow your upper body to drop gently, allowing your left arm to lie flat and your right cheek to rest on the floor. Close your eyes and feel the stretch. Hold this pose for about a minute and repeat on the left side.
Lengthy spine. Our spine is one of the most important parts of our bodies. It connects our bodies all the way from the base of the skull to our tailbone. If we allow poor posture when we sit, sleep, walk and even exercise, our spine is negatively affected. When we think of stretching, the spine is often forgotten about since it is not a muscle, but rather a series of interconnected joints. It is important to stretch our spines daily to avoid back pain or stiffness.
Standing overhead wall stretch. To get an awesome stretch between your shoulders, stand facing a wall, about a foot away from the wall. Make sure your feet are about 6 inches apart. Hold your arms straight up, and place your hands on the wall in front of you. Then, slowly allow your chest to sink in between your arms, towards the wall, until you feel a deep stretch. Be aware of your core here, focusing on your belly button coming in towards the spine. Hold this position for a few deep breaths, about 30 seconds. Slowly bring your chest back up, and return to standing position. If you feel comfortable and relaxed, repeat stretch two to three more times.
Activated abdominals. The strength and flexibility of our abdominal muscles (core) affect our ability to perform almost every activity. Whether you’re tying your shoelaces in the morning or doing sit-ups at the gym, your core is activated. Taking time to activate and elongate your core can make all the difference in your personal liveliness and movement.
Camel pose stretch. This stretch is one of the best stretches to perform. Camel pose not only activates and stretches the abdominal muscles but also works to lengthen the spine and stretch out the quadriceps. Although it can be slightly uncomfortable in the beginning, go into this stretch gently, and allow your body time to become for flexible. For camel pose stretch, start with your knees on the floor, keeping your spine straight and your legs and feet directly behind your knees. Place both palms on the back of your hips with fingers facing down. Gently lean your head back, holding a soft gaze at the ceiling. You will begin to feel the stretch in your abdominals. You may stop here, however, if you feel flexible and would like to go deeper into the stretch, take both hands and place them on your heels with fingers pointing towards the toes. Lift up through your pelvis, keeping your lower spine long. Allow your neck to fully relax as you softly gaze behind you. Go as deep into the pose as your body feels comfortable and hold for 30-60 seconds. Come out of the pose by placing your hands back on your hips as you slowly roll your spine back into a straight position. Rest for one minute and repeat once more.
Relaxed hips. The hip joint is a ball and socket joint, formed by the head of the femur, resting inside the hip socket. The hip joint has a surprising amount of flexibility. Whether we are using the hips for stabilization or for movement, we use them daily. It is important to stretch our hips to keep them strong and flexible.
Pendulum stretch. This stretch is slightly more advanced than others. It may be a little challenging because it requires an activated core and thighs, but who doesn’t love working for more than one muscle group at a time? To perform the pendulum stretch, lie flat on your back with both arms to the side. Bring your legs together, and lift them directly up into the air, keeping inner thighs together. Bring them as high as you can, ideally until the toes are pointed towards the ceiling. Once here, take both legs, to the left towards the floor. The goal is to bring the legs just a few inches above the floor. Return to the starting position and repeat on the right side—this is one rep. Repeat entire rep 10 to 15 times until you feel your hips are relaxed and your core is engaged.
Energized thighs. Most of us don’t engage the muscles of our lower bodies enough on a regular basis. Sure, we may walk the dog or go shopping at the mall, but that is barely hitting the tip of the iceberg. Our thighs have quite a few muscles that are screaming for our attention right now. Make it your mission to lengthen and expand your thighs daily.
Lunge stretch. Who doesn’t LOVE lunges? Lunges are one of the best ways to stretch and activate the entire thigh. Performing a lunge stretch is like performing a typical lunge, only, you are going to go as deep into the lunge as you can and hold the lunge. Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart. Take your right foot forward and allow your hips and knee to bend while keeping your torso erect. Your left leg should be dropped just a few inches above the floor and your toes lifted, heel off the floor. Hold this stretch for 15 seconds while breathing slowly. Come back into standing position slowly and repeat on the left side. This is one rep. Repeat entire rep five times.
Elongated hamstrings. Tight hamstrings are quite common, whether it’s due to natural tightness or from a previous injury. Having tight hamstrings can be uncomfortable and can hinder our performance and athleticism. Taking time to maintain flexibility in our hamstrings will absolutely pay off.
Stiff-leg deadlift stretch. Something about the word “deadlift” can sound really intimidating. Don’t worry, the stiff-leg deadlift is far from it. Although you could use weights or dumbbells with this stretch, it is also very efficient in stretching the hamstrings with no weights or dumbbells at all. This move is one of the best stretches to do to improve hamstring flexibility. You are going to start with your feet hip-width apart. Rest your palms on your thighs. Look straight ahead and bend forward at the hips keeping a straight back. Bring your fingertips towards the floor. Maintain a slight bend in the knees but focus on keeping your legs straight. Repeat entire rep 15 times.