Do you wake up and stretch each morning before you start the day? The yawn-with-arms-spread-wide-while-you're-still-under-the-covers stretch doesn't quite count here (but it's a good start!). We're talking about a dedicated stretch routine that sets the tone for the rest of your day.
If you're like most people, when your alarm goes off, you either hit snooze or immediately reach for your phone to scroll through emails and social media notifications. Even after that, it likely takes some effort to get yourself out of bed. But committing to a mere five minutes of stretching each morning can greatly improve the way you feel and move.
Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., president of the American College of Sports Medicine and a leading exercise oncology researcher at Penn State University, is a vocal proponent of the benefits of regular exercise and insists that morning stretching is a functional remedy that can facilitate strength, range of motion and a general sense of wellbeing.
The Ideal Morning Stretch Routine
Make a point to do this brief routine every single morning, and Dr. Schmitz swears you'll feel five years younger and enjoy much more flexibility. Start with the simple shoulder stretch, and then move through the exercises to finish with hands laced behind the back. The entire set should take about three to five minutes and doesn't require any equipment. Do this daily to maximize the results.
1. Simple Shoulder Stretch
If you've slept in a weird position or spend too much time looking down at your phone, this simple stretch on its own will open up tight muscles that cause an achy neck.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand up straight (yes, you should get out of bed for this one) and draw your shoulders forward, as if to have them kiss in front of you. Then press your chest forward and draw your shoulder blades together in the back. Repeat this five times.
2. Spiderman Wall Push
This stretch is a dynamic move that calls on the muscles across the shoulder blades, triceps, pectorals (chest) and deltoids (shoulders). It can really improve mobility and develop upper-body strength.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand up straight facing a wall from a few feet away. Set your feet hip-distance apart. Press your hands flat against the wall, bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Only using the strength from your upper back and shoulders, push your chest away from the wall a few inches, and then back down to the start. Your elbows should barely move. Continue moving through this for about 15 to 30 seconds.
3. Shoulder Circles
The trapezius is the large muscle that runs down the neck, across the shoulders and into the middle of the back. Open it up and you'll breathe easier and even feel relief from tension headaches.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand up straight with your arms loose at your sides. Gently draw up your shoulders and roll them forward in a large, circular motion. Do this 10 times, and then stop and reverse the motion to roll the shoulders backward in large circles about 10 more times.
4. Standing Side Bend
This stretch is ideal for anyone who sits a lot, and it also helps improve balance and coordination.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand tall with your feet together and arms at your side. If balance is an issue, space your feet a few inches apart until you're steady. Swing your arms around, and then bring them up to meet above your head. Straighten your arms, lace your fingers, bend sideways at the waist and draw your arms toward the right into a deep stretch. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Slowly return to center, and then repeat by drawing your arms toward the left, holding an additional 15 to 30 seconds.
5. Shoulder Stretch Arm Across Chest
As the most mobile joint in the body, maintaining flexibility in your shoulders is crucial. This stretch reverses the effects of slouching and slumping at your desk while improving your range of motion.
HOW TO DO IT: From the previous stretch, return to the center and pull your left arm across your chest. Use your right hand to hold the back of the left upper arm (past the elbow, not quite as far as the shoulder). Your elbow should remain slightly bent (left arm can fall over the right shoulder). Hold for 15 to 30 seconds; repeat with the other arm.
6. Shoulder Stretch Hands Behind Back
Be sure to breathe deeply into this final stretch to feel relief all the way across your chest. This stretch will open up your pectorals after too much sitting.
HOW TO DO IT: Standing straight with feet together, interlock your fingers at the small of your back. Pull your arms back away from you — you'll feel this stretch in your upper back between your shoulder blades, your chest and shoulders. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
The beauty of this stretch circuit is that it can be done anywhere, anytime. So while you ideally want to do it standing in your bedroom at the start of your day, there's never really a bad time to stretch; your body will always reap the benefits.