Getting your stretch on has less to do with impressing your friends in yoga class or running club and more to do with aging gracefully. As we age, there are several reasons for our flexibility declining:
- The tissue around joints tends to thicken, which can decrease the joint’s range of motion.
- We tend to become less active and a decrease in movement leads to decreased flexibility.
- Years of bad posture and too much sitting also can result in loss of flexibility in key areas of the body.
Beyond the three listed above, the most prevalent reason we lose flexibility is we simply don’t take the time to stretch. Yes, taking up yoga, whether in structured classes or at home, is a great way to hold on to your flexibility. But if finding the time is what’s causing you to turn a blind eye to this extremely important pillar of fitness, here’s a quick-fix stretch routine featuring three of the best stretches you can do morning, noon, or night (or all of the above!) to stay on track.
Low Back Love
If you choose only one stretch, this is it. Everyone’s lower back could use a little love because so much sitting, bending, and reaching makes it really vulnerable. Keeping this area of the body strong and moving is of utmost importance. Try the standing cat/cow stretch:
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent slightly.
- Lean forward and place your hands just above your knees.
- Press against your thighs and round your back (belly will be pulled up and in toward the spine; the shoulders are curved forward).
- Then, reverse the movement by dropping your bellow toward your thighs as you arch your back (opening your chest as your shoulders roll back).
- Hold each position for 3-5 seconds; repeat several times for full benefit.
Hit the Hip Flexors
Much like your back, our hip flexors are constantly in a shortened position from sitting. When the front of the hip becomes tight, your lower back may feel the stress. Keeping hips stretched will help tremendously. The following hip flexor stretch will also help keep the quadriceps in check, which can help the knees:
- Stand with one leg back and the other foot forward. Point the toes of your back foot inward.
- Contract your glutes and shift your body weight forward, straightening your rear leg.
- Raise the arm that is on the same side as your rear leg, reaching to the opposite side until a stretch is felt in front of your pelvis.
- Hold the side stretch and then rotate backwards. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
Upper Body Relief
Sitting and typing, holding a phone, texting, and general stress tend to manifest in our shoulders, upper back, neck, and traps. A lifetime of tight shoulders and neck muscles is a recipe for pain. Any time you can, try the following upper body release:
- Sit (or stand) up tall with the best posture you can—ears stacked over shoulders, shoulders over hips, and torso as straight as possible.
- Begin with 5 shoulder rolls to the back, then reverse and roll the shoulders to the front. Play around with how big the shoulder rolls are based on pain-free range of motion. Begin with just the shoulders, then try making bigger circles with your elbows leading the way, and finally, do full arm circles.
- Next, lift both arms out to the side of the body in line with the shoulders. Cross the arms in front of the chest and then open. Repeat 5 times.
- Drop your right ear slowly to your right shoulder, and then, to the left. Hold each side for 2-3 seconds before switching. Repeat 3-5 times.
- Finally, drop your chin to your chest, then look up to the ceiling. Hold each position for 2-3 seconds before switching, 3-5 times. Be careful to keep the back of the neck elongated as you look up.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends stretching all major muscle groups at least two days per week. While the above three stretches do not address all major muscle groups, these are certainly among the most beneficial if you’re short on time or need to sneak stretches in during the work week. Aim to set an alarm during your work day reminding you to get up and move (and do these best stretches!) at least once per hour. Beyond the stretches recommend, be sure to stretch after your workouts, and if you can, add a bit of yoga into your life for more in-depth stretching.
To learn more about flexibility training and its benefits, review Fitness Fundamentals: Stretching 101.