7 stretches that’ll help you feel better in 7 minutes
Have you noticed that when your dog, cat or other furry friend gets up from a long nap, they stretch? Maybe they do downward dog. Or they extend and quiver their back legs.
This habit is more than just a cute performance. Stretching keeps muscles flexible, strong and healthy. It increases blood flow to joints, which can help with stiffness. And it allows your body to move more easily, preventing injuries. (Just think about how much more useful and durable a long elastic rubber band is compared with one that’s stiff and tight.)
A 2019 study in Clinical Rehabilitation suggests that regular stretching may even help reduce chronic pain. The researchers divided women with fibromyalgia into 2 groups. One group biked 3 times a week. The other had the same routine but added a stretching program 1 day each week.
After 4 months, the stretching group reported significant improvements in sleep quality and pain compared with the bike-only group. (Taking a prescription medication for fibromyalgia or another condition? We may be able to help you save up to 80%. Get your free discount card today.)
Plus, stretching just feels really good. Yet it’s something that many humans rarely take time to do. And that’s a shame, because simple stretches can help release tight muscles that could be contributing to pain, says Sasha Mihovilovic. She’s a master trainer for the National Academy of Sports Medicine based in Charleston, South Carolina.
You don’t even need a lot of time to reap the benefits. Just a few minutes will do the trick.
Try Mihovilovic’s simple stretching routine below after a workout, during your workday or even before bed. The goal: Work it into your daily routine so that you can let go of stress and give your body the relief it needs.
7 stretches to reduce muscle tension
As you go through this routine, remember that flexibility training shouldn’t be painful. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends stretching just to the point of feeling tightness or slight discomfort. For the most benefits, hold static stretches such as these for about 30 seconds, says the ACSM. And practice these or your other favorite stretches at least 2 days per week.
Sitting or standing, find a tall posture. Relax your shoulders down and back. Bring your right hand up and place it on the left side of your head. Facing forward, gently tip your head to the right side. Breathe here. When you’re ready, gently release and switch sides.
Shoulder and triceps stretch
From a seated position, reach your right arm straight up and place your hand at the back of your head or neck. Your right elbow should be facing toward the ceiling. Then place your left arm on your back with your left elbow pointing down, your hand facing out and fingers reaching up.
If you can, shimmy your hands toward each other until they clasp. Hold here and breathe. If clasping beyond your range of motion, grab a towel and hold on to it with each hand, inching up as much as possible. Release and switch sides.
Lie faceup on the floor with your legs extended and your arms out to the sides at shoulder height to form a “T” position. Bend your left knee and bring it toward your chest. From here, roll your left knee to the right side. Let it gently drop as far as gravity will allow without lifting your left shoulder off the ground. Turn your head to the left and hold here. Release and switch sides.
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Supine figure four
Lie faceup on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your left foot on your right thigh just below the right knee. Stay here if this stretch is enough for you. To intensify the stretch, keep your head on the ground as you reach both hands behind your right leg and gently pull that leg toward you. Hold here and breathe. Release and switch sides.
IT band lengthener
Sit tall on the floor with your legs extended in front of you and your feet flexed. If this is uncomfortable or if your back is rounding, feel free to sit on a pillow or bend your knees slightly. From here, reach your left arm up and lean forward to place it on the outside of your right foot, ankle, calf or knee. Go only as far as is comfortable. (You also have the option of wrapping a small towel around your right foot and holding the ends. You can pull gently to increase the stretch.)
Hold here and breathe. When you’re ready, switch sides.
Kneeling hip flexor tuck
Begin in a kneeling position. Place your right foot out in front of you so that your right knee is over your right ankle and your left hip is over your left knee. (If balance is tough here, hold on to a wall or chair with your right hand.)
From here, tuck your pelvis under and lift your left arm up and over to the right side. If you’d like a more intense stretch, push your hips slightly into a lunge. Hold here and breathe. Release and switch sides.
Take off your shoes and socks (if you haven’t already) and get into your kneeling position. Tuck your toes under so that the bottoms of your feet are facing the back of the room. Slowly sit to feel the stretch in your toes, feet and even calves. Hold here and breathe. When you’re ready, shift your weight forward onto your hands and release your toes from the tucked position. Gently tap the tops of your feet on the floor for 10 to 15 seconds to release.
Feeling relaxed? Bookmark this page and come back to it any time you need a moment for you.
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The impact of stretching on fibromyalgia pain: Clinical Rehabilitation (2019). “Benefits of adding stretching to a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise programme in women with fibromyalgia: a randomized controlled trial”
Stretching and flexibility guidelines: American College of Sports Medicine