5 Simple Stretches To Promote Better Mobility & Fewer Injuries
When you think of stretching, an image of pulling your arm across your chest or bringing your heel to your butt might come to mind. But then you might wonder why it seems like you're constantly dealing with frustrating, persistent aches (looking at you, lower back pain). I've got news for you: A truly good stretch isn't about going through the motions, it's about truly increasing range of motion and function in your body.
As for the best stretches to do daily, I've laid out and demonstrated some of my favorites below. All of these help with the most common types of pain in today's tech and quarantine world (think lower back discomfort, wrist aches, neck strain, and knee pain). Plus, they'll help you move better during workouts or even just daily tasks.
I recommend doing these stretches for about a minute each, ideally five times a week (if not daily) to keep your body functioning in tiptop shape. Carving out just a few minutes per day for movement and stress release can make a world of difference in your daily life—trust me.
How to: Start in a standing position, with your feet together. Press your shoulder and the heel of your palm down away from you while flexing your fingers up as high as you can. Look in the opposite direction as your hand, at an upward diagonal. Next, slowly bring your chin down toward your collarbone, looking toward the ground. Hold both positions for a minute, then repeat on the opposite side.
Good for: Releasing neck tension from staring at a screen or your phone.
Benefits: Better posture, less shoulder impingement, fewer tension-related head symptoms.
Hip Flexor Stretch
How to: Start in a kneeling position, with both legs at a 90-degree angle. Press your front heel into the floor and tuck the toes of your back foot under. Tuck your pelvis. Squeeze your rear glutes, and feel like you're dragging the front heel and back knee closer together. With the same side arm as the bottom leg, reach up as high as you can and slightly lean toward the side with the leg in front. Maintain engagement. Hold for one minute. Repeat on other side.
Good for: Reversing the effects of sitting all day by putting the hips from flexion into extension.
Benefits: Less lower back or knee pain, hip pinching or popping; better splits; longer strides; lower risk of injury.
How to: Start on one knee with the other leg straight out in front of you with toes pointed toward the ceiling. (You may put your foot and hands against a wall for balance as well as an extra stretch.) Keep the back flat or arched as you push your hips back and hinge your chest forward. Think of lengthening forward versus rounding down. Imagine a string pulling your chest toward the wall in front of you. Then, bring the front leg across the body for an outer hamstring stretch. Hold for a minute in each position. Repeat on other side.
Good for: Allowing the quad to contract more, making other exercises easier.
Benefits: Better splits, bigger range of motion to increase personal records, lower risk of injury, improved form, relief or lower back or knee pain.
Lying Chest Stretch
How to: Lie on your stomach and place one arm straight out to the side of you. Bend your elbow to 90 degrees. Using the opposite hand, press down into the floor to gently roll your body onto the shoulder that has the arm extended. Keep the shoulder on the floor as much as possible and away from the ear (minor adjustments may be necessary once you roll into the position for the deepest stretch). Hold for 1 minute. Repeat on other side.
Good for: Reversing the effects of sitting all day by putting the shoulders in proper alignment and upper back in an aligned position.
Benefits: Promotes better posture, less shoulder impingement and tension in the lower back, more open chest muscles, and better thoracic spine movement.
How to: Kneel on the ground, then place your wrists on the floor or on an elevated surface. Keeping your arms straight, drop the chest and armpits toward the floor. Your gaze can be toward the hands or straight in front of you. Alternate contracting your abs and letting your chest hang. Hold for 1 minute.
Good for: Reversing the effects of sitting all day by putting the shoulders in the proper alignment and upper back in an aligned position.
Benefits: Promotes better posture, less shoulder impingement, opens tight shoulder and lat muscles, and better thoracic spine movement.
If you want to continue and improve your overall flexibility, my company Train Like A Gymnast's signature program, Stretch Like A Gymnast, will be opening enrollment for new students starting October 23 and closing November 1, 2020. Learn exercises you can do at home to help you get your splits, improve your backbends, and unlock your dream skills.
Danielle Gray is the founder of Train Like A Gymnast, a Wilhelmina fitness model, aerialist, speaker, and multi-passionate entrepreneur,. She is also a NASM-certified personal trainer with specialties in bodyweight training, nutrition, kettlebells, pre and post natal exercise. Prior to graduating from the University of Southern California, she was a former Junior Olympic gymnast, judge and coach, which is partly what inspired her to help formerly competitive athletes train like a gymnast and feel like themselves again.