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With all the things we do to work towards our health goals — walking, strength, cardio workouts — stretching often gets put on the back burner. Stretching feels good, so it's easy to think that it can't be that effective. The good news is that stretching is actually a really important part of staying fit and healthy, so you don't need to feel guilty about making a daily stretching routine a priority!
Stretching can improve your range of motion, increase your flexibility and reduce stress. Range of motion (ROM) is how far you can move your joints in different directions and having a healthy ROM can make exercising — and everything else — a lot easier. Having good range of motion also helps your joints stay healthy. They are made to move, after all!
If you've ever noticed how hard it is to do daily tasks when you're feeling stiff, you know that flexibility is definitely worth making the time for. Slowing down and showing our muscles some love is also a great self-care activity that boosts our mental health. And even though stretching isn't a major calorie-burner, some experts think that integrating stretching into your fitness routine will support weight loss. Did I mention that stretching feels good? Win-win.
Did you know that there are two kinds of stretching? With static stretching, you hold the stretch. This is the kind of stretching you'll find in many Hatha yoga classes. Holding a stretch or a yoga pose for 20 seconds or more helps release muscular tension and stress. This type of stretching is generally performed at the end of a workout when the muscles are already warmed up.
Dynamic stretching is more movement-based stretching and can be similar to Vinyasa flow yoga. The benefit of dynamic stretching is that it helps improve range of motion and flexibility of the body as a whole. These stretches literally flow from one move to the next to help loosen up the body. They are also a great way to warm up before exercise.
I included both types of stretching into this routine to give you a well-rounded stretch that can be done any time of day. Try it in the morning to start your day, as an excuse to step away from the computer for an afternoon break, or as a way to wind down before bed. If you want to couple this stretch with a walk, I recommend using it as a cool down since it does include some of the static stretches that are best done after exercise.
You don’t need to devote a ton of time to stretching to feel the results. Starting with just five minutes a day is great! I've designed a 5-minute daily stretching routine that will help you make stretching into a habit.
How to do the 30-day plan
Since the reason so many of us forget to stretch is simply because we aren’t in the habit of doing it, let’s start small. I challenge you to commit to doing this five-minute stretch routine every day for a month. Yes, just five minutes a day can have positive effects on your physical and mental state.
Set a daily reminder.
Set a reminder on your phone or leave yourself a post it to make sure you stick with the plan. Once you start feeling the benefits, it will become second nature and you may not need a reminder at all. I recommend printing out the calendar and keeping it somewhere it will catch your attention — like the fridge or your bathroom mirror!
Increase to 10 minutes after 15 days.
Halfway through the month we're going to up our daily stretch time to 10 minutes. If that doesn't work for your schedule, feel free to stick with 5 minutes. Or consider breaking up your stretch into two, 5-minute sessions. Try doing one in the morning and another to wind down at the end of the day.
If you're already doing the Start TODAY Walking Challenge, you can add in these stretches at the end of your walk or anytime throughout the day. Stretching is a great way to take care of yourself after exercising and it's best to do when your muscles are already warm.
Don't forget to breathe!
Performing a daily stretch routine with yogic breathing will help more than just your flexibility. Yogic breathing improves immune function and helps with fatigue and stress. If you’re not sure how to perform yogic breathing, use the movements as a guide.
Each movement will be synced to the breath. Inhale through the nose, and then exhale through the nose. During the holds of each pose, you can also continue with this deep breathing while you think about relaxing more on the exhale and expanding more on the inhale.
Can you commit to stretching for 30 days?
The 5-minute daily stretching routine
This is the 5-minute daily yoga-inspired stretching routine that I give my private clients. You can do it anywhere that you have enough room to swing your arms in a full circle. If you don’t have a mat, you can do the kneeling yoga sequence on the carpet, a towel or a blanket to help support your knees.
Kneeling stretch sequence
Kneeling mountain pose
Start in a kneeling position with your knees on the ground and the tops of your feet on the mat. Straighten your quads and back so that your body forms a straight line from your knees to your head. Raise your arms straight up overhead and reach toward the sky.
Hands and knees
Flow your arms down so that you are on all fours. Make sure your hips are over your knees, your hands are underneath your shoulders, and that your weight is equally distributed between your hands and knees. Pull your abs in and push the ground away from you to keep your whole body engaged.
From your hands and knees, gently move into the cow pose by arching your back and dropping your stomach toward the mat, looking toward the sky. As you exhale, move into the cat pose by pulling in your abs and rounding your back toward the sky. Repeat this 10 times.
Low runner’s lunge
From an all-fours position, step your right foot forward and bend the knee so that the knee is over the ankle. Lean forward until you feel a stretch in your left quad and hip flexor. Place your palms onto your right quad or onto a chair if it’s close by. Hold for 5 deep breaths and then switch sides.
Kneeling hamstring stretch
Begin on your knees with your back straight. Keep your left knee on the ground as you move your right leg straight out in front of you, resting the heel on the ground. Your leg should form a 45-degree angle with the ground. For more of a stretch, push your heel into the ground and lean forward, hinging at the hips. Hold for 5 deep breaths and then switch sides.
Standing stretch sequence
Standing mountain pose
Stand with your feet hips-width apart and your arms straight down at your sides. Make sure you’re balanced, and begin to press your big toes together. Straighten your legs and tighten your quads so that you remain firm and balanced. Squeeze your glutes while straightening and elongating your spine, neck and shoulders. Raise your arms straight up overhead and reach toward the sky.
From a standing position. Reach the arms out to the sides and up, and then dive forward hinging at your hips. Hanging forward with a slight bend in your knees, allow your chin to rest towards your chest. Let your arms dangle. If you’re able to, try to touch your palms or fingertips to the floor on either side of your feet. Hold this for 5 deep breaths.
Gently press your fingertips into your shins or quads. Inhale and lift your upper body away from your quads while keeping your back straight until your upper body is parallel to the ground. Release and come back to a forward fold.
From a standing position, step your left foot back behind you. Bend your right knee so that your quad is parallel with the mat. Reach your arms toward the sky and straighten your back. Hold for 5 breaths, relaxing the shoulders, before switching sides.
Standing hamstring stretch
Begin in a standing position. Place your right heel on the ground in front of you with the toe pointing toward the sky. Bend your left knee slightly. Press your heel into the ground and hinge forward at the hips so that you feel the stretch in your right leg. Press your hands onto your right thigh. Hold for 5 breaths before switching sides.
5-minute bonus stretch
Halfway through the month we're going to up our daily stretch to 10 minutes by adding this bonus routine!
Seated cat cow
Sit on the ground in a cross-leg position. Place your hands on your knees and sit up straight. Inhale as you pull your knees with your hands, helping to guide your chest forward and arch your low back. Lift your head toward the sky. Then exhale and round the back, leaning back slightly until you feel a pulling with your hands on your knees. Think of moving your torso away from your knees. Repeat 5 times each.
Seated cross-legged forward fold (left and right)
From a cross-legged, seated position, inhale as you reach your arms straight over your head. Exhale as you lean your chest forward over your legs, reaching your arms forward and resting them on the floor. Hold for 3 breaths. Feel a stretch in your low back. Then walk your hands over to the right and reach your arms on a diagonal to the right. Feel a stretch in the left side of your waist and back. Hold for 3 breaths, then walk the hands over to the left and reach your arms on a diagonal to the left. Feel a stretch in the right side of your waist and back. Hold for 3 breaths, and then move on to the next exercise.
Seated side stretch
Sitting up straight in a cross-legged position, inhale and reach both arms up overhead. Reach the right hand down toward the ground on the right side of your body. Exhale as you reach the left arm up and over the your head toward the right side of the room. Hold for 3 breaths, and then come through center. Repeat on the other side, and then move on to the next exercise.
Lying figure four
Lying down on your back, bend the knees and place the feet flat on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Grab your left hamstring with both hands, and pull the left leg in toward your chest. Flex the right foot and feel a stretch in the right glute. Hold for 3 breaths, and then switch sides. Then move on to the next exercise.
Lying down on your back, hug both knees into your chest. Open the arms straight out to your sides into a "T" shape. Keeping your torso facing forward, lower the legs to the right and turn your head to the left. Hold the stretch for 3 breaths, then come to center. Switch to the left side, hold for 3 breaths, and then move on to the next exercise.
Lying knees to chest
Lying down on your back, hug both knees into your chest. Wrap your arms around your legs so that your hands rest on your shins. Gently pull the legs in closer to the chest and reach the tailbone down toward the ground. Feel a stretch along the entire spine. Hold for 3 breaths.