Let's see a show of hands for how many of you sit at a computer all day... Chances are it's most of you... Ok.... so now what about those who walk around on a hard concrete floor for a job?? Think bartender/retail worker/waiter etc. We, as a society, pretty much fall into one of those two categories and, without realising it, are playing havoc with our posture. Stiff backs, sore knees and tight shoulders are fast becoming the norm as we slowly but surely morph into a race of round shouldered, skewed hip, hunchbacks!!!
Joseph Pilates once said, "A man is only as young as his spinal column".. and i believe this to be absolutely true. Good posture and spinal health is key to leading a long and active life and a couple of good stretches per day can help alleviate the pain associated with muscle stiffness. Stretching is just as important as your training regime!! It not only feels good, it helps disperse the build up of toxic lactic acid in your muscles and reduces your risk of injury during exercise.
LEAH'S TOP 5 FAVOURITE STRETCHES
1. CAT COW
This is a great stretch for opening up the entire spine - from the lumbar (lower back), up through the thoracic (middle/upper back) and into the cervical (neck).
1. Start on all fours ensuring that your hands are directly under your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. Make sure that you are in a neutral spine position, your eye gaze is directly down to the floor and the back of your neck is long.
2. From this position, turn your tailbone up towards the sky pushing your ribcage down towards the floor and making a "U" shape in your back. Lift your head and eye gaze up towards the sky stretching out the front of your throat.
3. Return back through your neutral position then round out your back the other way.. so arching it up towards the ceiling and tucking your chin in towards your throat.
4. Repeat in both directions a few times to articulate the spine.
2. THE ROLL DOWN
A truly delicious stretch for the spine where gravity does a lot of the work!! The key is to try and keep your hips stretching upwards as you roll your spine down.
1. Start standing up straight, arms down by your side, legs together.
2. Lower your chin down towards your throat and start rolling your spine down one vertebrae at a time as if you were peeling your spine down off a wall.
3. Allow your arms to hang freely at the bottom and make sure your weight is centred in your feet. Bend your knees slightly to take any tension out of your hamstrings as you feel the stretch in your back.
4. Start to roll yourself back up just as slowly as you came down, vertebrae by vertebrae until you back to your start position. Repeat 3 times.
3. THE COBRA
Another great stretch for the spine that also opens up the front of the chest and shoulders. Make sure you only push up to where feels safe for your back.
1. Start lying on your belly with your legs extended out, slightly apart and your palms flat on the floor beside your shoulders. Your eye gaze should be downwards and the back of your neck long.
2. Press the tops of your feet into the floor as you slowly push your chest up off the ground coming up as far as is comfortable for you. This stretch isn't about having straight arms - it's about achieving a great stretch in your lower back, chest and abs.
3. Hold for a couple of breaths then lower yourself slowly back down to the floor. Repeat 3-5 times.
4. LUNGE COMBO
Amazing for stretching those all-important hip flexors!! These muscles can shorten significantly due to our sedentary lifestyles to the point that even walking can sometimes be painful. The Lunge Stretch is a great way to open up the front of your hips and help stretch them out again!
1. Start with one forward and one foot quite far back behind you. Bring your hands down on either side of your foot and make sure your shin is perpendicular to the floor and that your knee is tracking exactly over your ankle.
2. Start with your back knee down on the ground and push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in your hip flexor (front of your hip). Try to keep your back upright and your shoulders away from your ears. Imagine trying to squeeze the floor together between your front foot and your back knee.
3. Tuck your back toes under and lift your back knee off the floor. Draw your back kneecap up your thigh and push your hips down towards the floor. Send your right heel back away from you stretching out your calf and again try to imagine squeezing the floor between your feet.
4. Then, keeping your back as flat as possible, push into your front foot as you straighten your front leg trying to increase the stretch in the back of your thigh. Only go as far as feels safe for you. You want to try and keep your back parallel to the ground.
5. Come back into your lunge stretch and repeat 2 more times. Then swap to the other side.
5. GLUTE STRETCH
A wonderful stretch that really targets the muscles in your bottom. You can play around with your bent leg position to get a deeper stretch.
1. Sit with one leg extended behind you and one leg bent in front of you. Make sure there is no tension in your bent knee so manoeuvre yourself around until you find a comfortable position.
2. Reach your hands out in front of you and sit up nice and tall. Slowly walk yourself forwards until you are draped over your bent leg. You should be feeling a stretch in the bottom muscles of the leg that is bent.
3. Stay down in this stretch and either rest your head on your folded arms or keep your arms reaching out in front of you.
4. Then slowly walk yourself back up to your start position. Swap legs and repeat.