As a massage therapist it’s important for me to stretch. But, do you? You should. It’s important to stretch in general to prevent injuries and keep your body loose. There’s nothing worse than tight muscles. Tight muscles can develop over a period of time due to overuse by constantly doing activities of daily living (ADL). Activities of daily living include eating, driving, bathing, or any other activity done on a daily basis.
Example: Do you drive to work? Think about when you drive. Your arms are in a certain position, right? The longer you drive the longer you’re holding that same position. Then, if you sit at a desk all day long, especially on a computer, you’re in that same (or similar) position maybe for 8 more hours. Don’t forget the commute back home. And, if you go home and sit on the couch guess what? You’re back in that same position. You can quickly see how easy it is to overuse the same muscles and neglect others. Your body can also start compensating in other areas to take up the slack, therefore, leading to an imbalance.
These stretches I have chosen, go against the usual positioning your body may be use to so that you can stretch out the muscles that don’t get used as often. You can perform them with or without exercise. You can even perform them first thing in the morning upon getting up out of bed.
For best results, perform stretches on a daily basis. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds, if possible. Just when you think you can’t go anymore, try going a little bit further (use your own discretion) and hold for an additional 15 seconds.
1. Hamstring & calf stretch
The hamstrings are the muscles that run from your butt to the back of your knee. The calf runs from the back of your knee to your achilles tendon. This stretch is a two-for-one and is excellent to do, especially if you wear high heels (I, too, am guilty as charged). When you wear high heels, and even flat shoes for that matter, your foot remains in a fixed position all day. It’s not often that your toes end up higher than your ankles. This stretch is also a good choice for people who have plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation of the thick tissue on the bottom of the foot (it results in extremely sharp heel pain).
There’s a variety of ways to do this stretch, but it all serves the same purpose. In the end, each foot will be toe up to get the stretch.
One way is to start in standing position, take one step back with your left foot, lift your right toes up towards the ceiling while keeping your heel on the floor. Lean on your left thigh for support. Hold for the specified amount of time and switch to the other leg.
2. Neck stretch (4 directions)
I have tight neck muscles. I do these stretches quite often and boy do they feel good. Do you ever wake up in the morning and can’t look down all the way? That’s me. It takes me a few minutes for my neck to be able to extend like that. Doing these exercises help speed up the process.
Direction 1: Take your right hand over your head and place on your left temple – slowly push your head towards your right shoulder
Direction 2: Take your left hand over your head and place on your right temple – slowly push your head towards your left shoulder
Direction 3: Clasp both hands together and place them (palms down) under your chin – slowly push your chin up and head back until you are looking up at the ceiling
Direction 4: Clasp both hands together and place them on the back of your head – slowly push your head down to move your chin to your chest
(Demonstration by my oldest son)
3. Back stretch
Weak back and weak abdominal muscles usually go hand in hand. Do you sit up straight all day? Congratulations if you do, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say most people probably don’t.
Stand in front of a chair or table – feet & legs together, knees may be slightly bent – place hands on top of the chair or table and slowly bend forward at the hips bringing your head toward the floor.
(This one is demonstrated by my daughter)
4. Chest stretch
Most of the time our arms are straight out in front of us (driving, on the computer) or at our sides. Rarely are they away from our chest so this is a good stretch.
Stand with feet shoulder width apart – slowly bend over at the waist – bring your hands behind your back and clasp them together – to take it a step further, keeping your arms straight, bring your arms toward your head.
5. Shoulder stretch
Child’s pose – this is probably the most popular yoga pose and it feels good, too!
Place a mat on the floor and get on your knees. Place hands palms down on the mat and slide down and forward until your head is resting on the mat.
(Here’s my son again)