This January, we’re on the search for quick, accessible hacks to kickstart 2023 in the strongest way possible. Today’s strength kickstarter: five stretches everyone needs to try.
Have you ever dashed out of your gym class during the cooldown, desperate to crack on with your day? Or skipped the suggested stretch section of an online class? If so, you’re not alone. But there’s good news: you don’t have to spend an extra hour in the gym to benefit from stretching. We asked the experts for their top essential stretches for when you’re too busy to care.
“Research shows that stretching can help improve flexibility and, as a result, the range of motion of your joints,” explains Penny Weston, personal trainer and founder of online wellness platform Made on Demand. “It may also improve your performance and reduce your risk of injuries.”
So, which stretches should we be doing?
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“Nowadays people spend more time hunched over than ever, whether it’s at their desk hunched over a computer or looking down at their phones,” says Weston. “This impacts a huge number of muscles around the neck, shoulders and chest. For this reason, I think that one of the most important stretches you should do is a shoulder stretch.”
- Reach your hands behind your back
- Interlock your fingers
- Gently raise your arms behind you
“You’ll feel this opening up the chest and shoulder area,” Weston says.
The best part? “It can be easily done when sitting at your desk or when you’re standing up waiting for a bus, in a lift and so on,” says Weston.
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The impact of long periods of sitting doesn’t end at the shoulders. “Another common problem with a lot of people sitting down at desks for long periods of time is the impact on the psoas muscle,” reveals Weston. “This muscle is located in the lower lumbar region of the spine and extends through the pelvis to the femur. It works by flexing the hip joint so that the upper leg lifts towards the body – when we walk, for example. However, if you’re sitting down for long periods of time then this muscle can shorten – which is why a lunge stretch can be ideal.”
- Stand with feet hip-width apart
- Now take a step forward with your right foot
- Lower your left knee to the floor
- Bring your hands to the floor on either side of your right foot
- Move your hips forward and hold
“You’ll feel the stretch in the front of the kneeled leg and the base of your stomach,” says Weston. “Make sure you do it on both sides.”
And if you’re really pushed for time, personal trainer Aimee Pearce has good news: “You don’t need to hold a stretch for ages, even 10 seconds on each area will be beneficial.” So, there’s no excuse.
“Another stretch to prioritise if you’re pushed for time is a neck stretch. If the neck isn’t flexible, it can put a lot of strain on the muscles and joints, resulting in headaches or pain in other areas,” advises Weston. “The neck is also an area that can be hugely impacted by lifestyle factors such as looking down at computers and phones, and even our sleeping position.”
- Place one hand on your lower back and the other hand on the opposite side of your head
- Keep looking straight ahead and gently pull your head towards your shoulder until you feel a stretch
- Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side
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My personal favourite, a good knee stretch really helps my tight hip flexors.
“The knee hug will stretch your lower back, hips, hamstrings and your inner and outer thighs,” agrees David Wiener, training and nutrition specialist at Freeletics. “This stretch can be performed either standing up or lying down. All you will need is a flat surface and possibly something to help hold your balance, such as a wall, countertop or chair back.
- Lying on your back, bring both knees towards your chest and hold
- Let go slightly and move your legs in a circle to help mobilise your lower back before getting back up
“The spine-rotation stretch promotes spinal mobility which can help to reduce muscle tightness and relieve muscle soreness,” explains Wiener. “Whether you have over-trained or have simply overdone it after not working out for a while, the spine-rotation stretch is great for opening your upper and midback, and outer-thigh region.
- Lie down on your back
- Extend your left leg out on the ground
- Bend your right knee and slowly bring across your body with your left hand
- Keep both shoulders on the floor as you twist to bring that right knee as near to the ground as your shoulders allow
- Pause before returning the right leg to the floor
- Repeat on the opposite side
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What if you have no time?
“If you are really short on time, do a quick body scan to see where your body is telling you that you need to move and start there,” recommends Pearce. “You might find you have a niggle in your knee and need to stretch out your quads, for example. Or you might have sat at your desk for five hours straight so stretching out your chest muscles will feel good.
“If you are short on time after a workout, I would focus on the big muscle groups, so a really quick stretching routine would be quads, hamstrings, calf, upper back and chest, finishing with stretching your arms overhead and leaning over side to side for your core.”
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