Do a body check: Are you hunched over a phone? Curled up on the couch? Slumped in a desk chair?
We're all guilty of less-than-stellar posture. And as we get older, our bodies fall into habitual patterns. Think about your default positions during everyday activities: Many of us sleep, sit in the car, and work in front of the computer in the same position — we even carry bags on one shoulder or arm instead of the other. Over time, the wear and tear of these repetitive movements can cause our muscles to hold tension and shorten.
Exercise, while great for our body, can also have this effect. If you exercise and don’t stretch, your body gets used to contracting and moving in specific ways. For example, if you always walk forward, you’re using your quads and hips. What about walking backward? Many of us don’t. Therefore, the muscles that we use get tight and the muscles that we don’t use lose mobility.
That's why it’s important to improve flexibility and stretch our muscles, loosen up our joints, and become mobile in a variety of planes of motion. Over time, this will improve range of motion and reduce your risk of injury.
Here are some great stretches to keep in rotation. You can do all of them together as a circuit or sprinkle them in throughout the day to combat tight muscles and improve flexibility over time.
Kneel on the floor so that your shins and tops of your feet are on the ground. Bend at your hips, moving your hands forward and sitting your butt back. Inch your hands out in front of you until your stomach is resting on your thighs and your arms are stretched straight out in front of you, palms on the floor. Focus on your breathing. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Wide leg seated forward fold
Sit up straight with your legs open wide. Flex your feet and engage your quads. Slowly fold forward as far as you can reaching your arms in front of you. Relax your shoulders and feel a stretch in your inner thighs. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Seated forward fold
Sit on the floor with both legs straight out in front of you. Reach your arms up above your head and then slowly fold forward as far as you can, resting your hands on your knees, shins or toes depending on your flexibility. Flex your feet and engage your quads. Relax your shoulders and soften forward into the stretch for your hamstrings. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your back straight. Bend your knees, bringing your feet in toward your body until the soles of your feet touch. Grab both feet with your hands for extra support. Slowly lean forward until you feel a stretch in the hips. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Start in a plank position. Lower the knees to the ground and bring your right foot forward between your hands. Stay low and place your hands on the floor on either side of your right foot. You will feel the stretch in your hips and your left quad. Hold for 10 seconds and then switch sides. From plank position, lower the right knee to the mat and step your left foot between the hands. Hold the position for 10 seconds.
Low lunge into hamstring stretch
From the low-lunge position, gently shift back on to the left knee with the right leg still extended. Straighten the right leg so that you feel a stretch behind the right leg and knee. Hold for 10 seconds, and then switch sides.
Cat and cow
Start on all fours. Your hands should be directly below the shoulders and knees directly under the hips. As you breathe in, arch the back and look up, pressing your tailbone to the ceiling. As you breathe out, press the spine and lower back to the ceiling to round the back and lower your neck, looking down toward the ground. Repeat for 10 “cats” and 10 “cows.”
Begin on all fours with your hands and knees on the ground. Step your right foot forward in between your hands, and then bring both hands to the inside of the right foot. Wiggle your right foot out to the right, and open the right hip, letting the right knee fall to the side so that you rest on the outer edge of your right foot. Keep the left knee on the mat, and rest the left foot on the mat. Push forward gently into your hips and hold. Switch so that your left foot is forward and repeat. Hold for 20-30 seconds.
Downward facing dog
Start in a plank position with your shoulders over your wrists. Pull your naval in toward your spine and reach your butt up toward the ceiling. Form a “V” with your body with your heels reaching down toward the ground. (It’s OK if they are off of the ground.) Press down through your toes and your fingers to stretch the legs and the underarms. Bend one knee and then the other knee. Hold the stretch for five breaths.
Lying spinal twist
Lie down on your back with your arms extended at your sides in a “T” position and your legs bent in table-top position. Twist your legs over to the right, allowing the legs to fall toward the ground or rest on the ground. Look to the left and hold for three breaths. Switch sides.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Rotate your left leg outward, placing your left ankle on top of your right thigh. Bring your right knee in toward your upper body. Gently pull your right thigh closer to your chest for a deeper stretch and hold for 30 seconds before switching to the other side.
Standing side stretch
Standing with your feet together, lift your right arm straight up into the air. Keep your left arm at your side or on your hip. Bend at the waist toward your left so that you feel a stretch in the right side of your waist. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
Standing quad stretch
Stand tall with feet shoulder-width apart. Shift the weight to your right foot, grab your left foot with both hands and pull it behind you so that it touches your butt. Hold the stretch for about 20-30 seconds, then alternate legs. If you’re feeling unsteady, hold on to a stable surface with one hand.
Standing knee hug
Stand tall with feet hips-width apart. Lift the right leg and hug your right knee to your chest with both of your arms for 10 seconds. Leaning back will offer a more intense stretch if needed. Repeat on the left leg.
Cross body shoulder stretch
Stand with your feet hips-width apart. Extend your left arm across your chest toward the right side of the room. Use your right arm to draw your left arm closer to your body for a deeper stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, and then repeat on the other arm.