Remember when you used to wake up, dash in the shower and be on your way to the Tube 20 minutes later? Our mornings used to be such a rush that things like stretching felt like luxuries to be saved for after work or the weekend.
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But stretching to start the day has never been more important. If you’re about to spend all day crunched over your laptop while sitting at a too-small table in your kitchen for nine hours, you want to make sure that you’re nice and supple to begin with. It’s also a good idea to have a calming stretch if you wake every day filled with anxiety-induced dread, as so many of us do these days.
“At the moment, everyone’s a lot less active because they’re at home more and it’s important for the body to keep moving,” says Bryony Morris, a yoga teacher who is currently inspiring people to get moving as soon as they wake up in the morning.
“We have synovial fluid and fascia, which is like the web which holds the body together – running through the muscles and bones. We need to keep moving to keep it lubricated. When you wake up stiff in the morning, it’s because you haven’t been moving around and as soon as you start moving, it lubricates the joints and the muscles. I always recommend movement to start the day.”
Bryony tells Strong Women that we’ve got to work to maintain very functional movements otherwise the body gets stiff. Squatting, rolling up and down through the spine and stretching out the side ribs are the kinds of things she recommends starting the day with to warm up the body.
These days, however, there’s no excuse. You can roll out of bed an hour before your shift is due to start, nail a 30-minute HIIT session, have a good 10-minute stretch, make breakfast and be at your desk ready to begin your day with time to spare.
Second generation Master Pilates trainer, Susanna Foustok tells us: “Your morning routine sets you up for the day ahead. Instead of grabbing your phone the minute your eyes open, take some time to get into your body.”
She says that depending on how you sleep, your body will feel stiff in certain areas.
If you sleep on your side, you might wake up with a stiff bottom shoulder and maybe top hip too. Sleeping with a pillow between the legs can help to get the pelvis in better position easing strain in the lower back and hips.
“Stomach sleepers often wake up with a stiff low back and one side of the neck. Whatever your sleeping position is, the body needs time to unwind from it. Some stretches in the morning will improve circulation, reduce pain and help you start your day with better posture and awareness.”
So with that in mind, here’s the routine and the stretches we should be starting the day with:
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Stretches for before you get out of bed…
“While you are still lying on your back, pull one knee into the chest while you elongate the other one long,” Susanna explains.
- Stretch through the front of the straight leg to stretch your hip flexors that get tight from sleeping with knees bent.
- Add circles for your ankle.
- After doing the stretch on both legs, bring the knees into your chest and then lift the head up.
- Holding the ankles, press the shins down and try to touch your forehead to your knees if that feels OK for your back.
“Hollow your abs in to press the back into the mattress. Finish off with a full-body stretch reaching your arms overhead and stretching both legs long.”
Stretches for before you head to the bathroom…
“The wall is a great place to get some movement for the spine and gain awareness of your posture.”
- Time for a ragdoll posture – placing your back fully against the wall with your feet as close as you can without letting the low back arch away from the wall.
- Heels together, toes apart with inner thighs squeezing the legs together.
- Start to roll down off the wall one vertebrae at a time letting your arms dangle by your sides.
- Go halfway down and roll back up.
- You will easily feel which part of your spine is stiff and you can pause on that spot and try to engage your abs to round that part more. Your goal is to roll the spine evenly off and evenly back on the wall five times.
- On the last round, stay down with the stomach scooping up and legs pressing the floor away and start a circle with your arms.
- Let the dangling arms stop at their own time and then spin them again to start a circle the other way.
- Roll back up.
“This is really great for tight shoulders as the gravity will work to relax the top of the shoulders and the neck.”
Stretches for before you shower…
“Joe Pilates used to give this towel exercise for people with tight chests,” Susanna says.
- Take your bath towel and grab the ends while standing with legs wide apart.
- Stand facing the mirror and reach the straight arms up pulling the towel apart, then back behind you.
- Use your back muscles to bring the arms back circling over the head.
- Start with a wide grip and work the hands closer as you get more flexible.
- Repeat five times. Then finish off with a side bend both sides with the towel pulled wide.
Stretches for while you brush your teeth…
You have a full two mins here… if you are brushing your teeth properly. Tight hip and quadriceps cause a lot of low back pain. When these are tight they pull the lower back into an excessive arch.
- Stretch them by holding one ankle, press the knees close together.
- Make sure that when you stretch the bent-knee thigh down while keeping the front of the hip super straight and your low abs pulling in and up.
“Not only do you open the front of the low body, but you also get to practise your balance.”
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A couple of extra moves you could throw in throughout the morning include:
Bryony says: “This really opens the chest. We’re all spending a lot of time hunched over looking at our phones and computers so anything that opens out the chest first thing in the morning is really good.”
- Stand with your back against the wall.
- Bend your knees so that your knees form a 90° angle to the wall, keeping your shoulders and back pinned back. Bend the arms at the elbows and bring them up either side of you, against the wall.
- Feel free to roll the neck and head from side to side.
“Hold and breathe into the ribs to feel a sense of opening.”
Swinging side to side
A great way of mobilising the joints, this one is a good stretch to do first thing in the morning to wake up or as a refresher during your 3pm slump.
Stand feet hip-width apart and swing the arms from side to side, turning on your toes as you go – twisting the knees, hips, spine, arms and neck.
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Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.