Movement is an essential part of life, but so is flexibility.
Unless you’re a practicing yogi or a ballet dancer, chances are that flexibility is something that tends to take a back seat in your life. Unlike working out, however, much of the stretching you have access to doesn’t even need a change of clothes.
Why Is Stretching Important?
Many of us stretch on an almost instinctual basis. Long car ride? Pulling over to get gas is almost always accompanied by a reach for the sky. Waking up after a wonderfully restful snooze? Even babies stretch their arms and legs as long as they can! Even looking across a sea of cubicles in corporate America there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll see a few arms jutting up in the air, reaching for the clouds after drafting the latest report.
While instinctual stretching is, indeed, a wonderful thing and feels amazing, we can all benefit from a sort of organized stretching protocol. The stretches that I’m about to introduce will both feel good and contribute to making you feel better in your skin.
Any or all of these stretches can be used. Some will need a prop or two, while others can be done right at your desk (unless you’re cool enough to have a standing desk, then you’ll actually need to sit!).
Flexibility is Youth
The youngest “old” people that we all know probably have something in common. They can move in a good range of motion, and are relatively spritely and yes, flexible, for their age. It’s one of the things that feels best to us as humans—the ability to move our bodies in natural ways.
Being flexible also has the unique function of making you better in almost every moving endeavor, from getting in and out of your car, to going out dancing with friends, to running a marathon. Being able to express the unrestricted movement of your body through a full range of motion is surely the definition of what it means to have functional movement. If you are cut short in a movement pattern due to flexibility issues, it could affect things as simple as getting down on the floor to play with the kids, or even backing up your car. My dad, for example, has such a limited range of motion that he now has to use the mirrors to back up his car, since he can’t turn his head far enough!
Stretching Is Not Only for Muscles
Although we think of flexibility as something that happens primarily in our muscles and joints, there are studies suggesting that flexibility in the body transfers to the circulatory system of veins and arteries as well. (1) This particular study even went so far as to suggest that “flexibility may be a predictor of arterial stiffening, independent of other components of fitness.” I don’t think that any of us want stiff arteries!
Like any movement program, being more flexible gets you more in tune with your body. Just knowing that you’re feeling a little stiff can be an indication of something being up with your health, whether it’s something you ate, sitting for too long, or just a build up of all the stress that you take on from day to day.
7 Stretches to Change Your Life
I’m going to introduce seven stretches that I like and are easily approachable for most people. A few of these can be quite challenging, while others may not even require getting up from your computer.
This first stretch is one of my new favorites. So much so that I’ve decided to call it the Master Squat Stretch. No other stretch that I’ve seen provides opportunity to stretch the ankle, knee, hips, back, shoulders, elbows, and wrists, all at the same time! Talk about a bang for your buck!
These movements range from combinations of squatting and stretching to lighter stretches that barely involve any range of motion at all. It can be very helpful to perform some or all of these movements in front of a mirror (though this is not necessary) in order to really be able to watch your form while you build awareness of how your body moves.
Master Squat Stretch
- First, reach overhead as if you are pressing the ceiling away from you.
- Balance the book flat on your hands and straight over your head.
- Drive your head forward to make room to keep your hands touching while they are above your head.
- Keeping your feet touching at the ankles, push the hips back and begin a squat.
- Keep the book balanced in your hands, and squat down until your hamstrings touch your calves. Be sure to keep your heels on the floor!
- Once at the bottom, pause for one to two seconds, and drive the book into the air and stand.
I use a book in this example, but anything that will easily slide off of your hands will work to keep you honest in the movement.
For many of us this will be super, super challenging. The heels may want to come off the floor, the elbows will want to bend, and we may only be able to barely “skooch” and not be able to squat at all. This is okay! This is a very challenging movement. That’s why it’s one of the best to do on a daily basis.
Shoulder Pass Through
- Using a broomstick, dowel, or even a jump rope, hold it with hands wide in front of you.
- With straight arms, guide the stick up and over your head until it touches your butt. The wider your hands the easier it will be to pass the stick over your head and to the back.
- You should put your hands close enough that it’s challenging and you can feel a stretch, but not so far that you feel no stretch at all.
This movement is great for the shoulders, and follows through a little to the wrists as well.
Squat to Sotts Press
- Using the broom, or stick, place it on your back as if you are going to do a back squat.
- Perform a squat with the stick on your back and chest nice and high.
- Once you arrive at the bottom of the squat, press the stick up over your head until your arms are straight, then rise up from the bottom of the squat until you’re standing.
- Drop the stick down until it’s touching the back again, and repeat.
- Get as deep as possible into the squat, and be sure to press the stick as high as possible while you stand from the bottom position.
Thumb Grab Stretch
- Standing with feet under the shoulders, reach straight up into the air.
- Grab your left thumb with your right hand, then gently pull your left thumb, stretching sideways until you feel that wonderful stretch all down your left side.
- Return to the top position and repeat on the other side.
- Get into a kneeling position on the floor.
- Place your palms on the floor on either side of you.
- Keeping your palms on the floor, lean forward to increase the range of motion on your wrists. A little goes a long way!
- Also, to stretch the outer part of the wrists, from a tall kneeling position, place the back of your hands on the ground, then slowly sit back on your ankles (be gentle!).
- Using a doorway, place the ball of the foot on the door frame, then leaning back if necessary, push your heel into the door frame as well.
- Using the door frame for leverage, drive your hips (not shoulders) into the door frame. Your arms probably won’t move, instead your hips should be the thing that is driving forward.
The great thing about this is that all you need is a door!
Seated Hip Stretch
- While sitting in a chair, bring your right foot up and place it on your knee, or even your left “lap” if possible.
- For some, that will be a stretch on it’s own! For others, slightly leaning forward will cause even more of a stretch through the outside of of the right hip.
- Repeat on the other side.
The Basics of Stretching
While this isn’t a complete list, it should be enough to get you started on your journey towards increased mobility and flexibility. One of the great things about stretching is that a little change makes a big difference in your life.