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...what about those who, in stark contrast, are probably walking around on hard concrete for a job. Think bartender/retail worker/waiter etc. We, as a society, pretty much fall into one of those 2 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.
Here are 5 of my favourites!!!
1. THE CHEST OPENER
This stretch is great for anyone who uses a computer all day as well as for surfers as it opens up the front of the shoulders. It will instantly take the pressure off your lower back and make you feel more upright!
1. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight - feel free to elevate your hips by sitting on a rolled up towel or block if you feel pressure in the hips.
2. Interlace your fingers behind your back and try to press your palms together. Reach your hands down towards your tailbone feeling the stretch in the front of your shoulders.
3. Once you feel a good stretch you can either stay in this position or hinge forwards from your hips and bring your arms as far over your head as your shoulders comfortably allow.
4. Remember to breathe slowly and with every exhalation try to go a little deeper into the stretch. Come out of the stretch the same way you went in.
2. THE SNAKE STRETCH
The snake stretch is an perfect for alleviating tightness in the upper back and neck.
1. Find a comfortable seated position. Again, feel free to elevate your hips if you feel pressure in the lower back.
2. Have your arms out to the side in a goal-post position - so elbows bent to right-angles with your upper arms parallel to the floor and your forearms pointing straight up.
3. Keeping your arms at right angles, draw your left arm in front of you until it is in line with your face. Your right arm then snakes under your left upper arm and wraps around your left forearm until your palms connect as best they can. Try to keep your forearms pointing straight up to the ceiling.
4. Once you are in this position, squeeze your elbows together and feel the skin between your shoulder-blades stretch apart. If this is enough of a stretch for you stay here, otherwise gently bring your forehead down to meet your hands to enable a stretch in your neck.
Breathe in and out slowly for 5 counts then repeat other side.
3. THE HAMSTRING STRETCH
This traditional and beautiful stretch can help to keep your hamstrings (back of your thighs) nice and supple as well as challenging your pelvic stability and neutral spine.
1. Lie down on your back with your legs stretched out, toes pointed, inner thighs squeezing together.
2. Press the back of your right thigh into the floor as you bend your left knee, drawing your toes along the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your left thigh as your raise your leg into the air keeping a slight bend in your left knee.
3. Maintaining a neutral spine and keeping your right thigh pressed into the floor, push your left thigh into your hands as your pull your leg towards you. This is a stretch using equal and opposite resistance. As you push your leg away you are also pulling it towards you. Keeping the muscle on tension while you stretch it helps to protect it.
4. Keep pushing away and pulling towards you for 5 counts then release the tension and you should have a little more "give" in your left thigh. Draw it a little closer towards your face and repeat twice more. Then repeat to the other leg.
4. THE LUNGE STRETCH
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 your left foot forward and your right 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 right hip flexor (right 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 left foot and your right knee.
3. If you want to progress from here, 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. Bring your back knee down and swap sides.
5. CHILDS POSE/REST POSITION
A well-known, much-loved stretch and for good reason!! Child's Pose or Rest Position is one of the best stretches for your lower back. It lengthens and stretches the spine as well as the shoulders.
1. Start with your knees underneath you toes together, knees wide (more comfortable) or toes and knees together - whatever position is best for you.
2. Reach your arms out in front of you as far as they will go keeping your tailbone connected to your heels. Feel the stretch in your lower back and all the way up your spine. Push yourself back further onto your heels to deepen the stretch.
3. If you want to add in a side stretch, keep your hips square but walk your hands over to one side until you feel a stretch down the opposite side of your body. Walk your hands back through centre over to the other side. Come back through centre.
Repeat as many times as you feel necessary.