The Best Stretches for Your Body’s Tight Spots
After a particularly intense workout you always feel great, but more often than not you’ll wake up the next morning sore, cramped, and stiff. Starting a new fitness routine or taking your workout up a notch is one of the main causes of sore muscles, but they’ll also show up if you sit at a desk all day or sleep poorly. Stretching out sore areas is important because it lengthens the muscles, increases blood flow to those stiff areas, and improves overall physical performance.
Everyone suffers from persistent tight spots, and sometimes those basic stretches you learned playing high school football won’t cut it. That’s where these moves come into play.
The neck is one of the most common areas to tighten up. It can cramp up from leaning forward to look at a computer screen all day or from sleeping in an awkward position. Neck pain is tough because the neck is such a central part to the body, and when you have a crick in your neck, it can lead to headaches and upper back pain.
- Side neck: Relieve pain on the sides of your neck by sitting on the floor in a cross-legged position or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Rest your right arm on your right knee, or grasp the side of the chair. Then, take your left hand to the top of the head so that your fingers touch or cover your right ear. Slowly use your left hand to tilt your head to the left. You can hit a particular sore spot by adjusting the direction you pull as needed. Hold for at least 30 seconds before releasing and switching sides.
- Back neck: Remaining on the floor or in your chair, clasp your hands together, and bring both palms to the back of your head. Sit straight without letting your back hunch over as you gently pull your head down so that your chin reaches toward your chest. To go deeper, pull your shoulders down and away from your head. From here you can look from side to side to reach into the side neck. Hold for at least 30 seconds.
The triceps are located on the back of your arms and can get tight from pushing or pulling motions like push-ups or bench pressing. Playing football or baseball will also lead to tight, worked triceps.
- Sit on the floor in a cross-legged position or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Raise your left arm overhead, and then bend at the elbow so your left palm comes to the middle of your upper back. Take your right hand overhead to grasp your left elbow, and pull your left elbow toward your right side until you feel the stretch in your left tricep. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
- Remaining on the floor or in your chair, reach your left arm across your body at shoulder level, and grasp your left elbow with your right hand. Pull your left arm toward your right elbow to feel the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
The shoulders are a big one for weight lifters who use the shoulder muscles regularly and for office workers who tend to round their back as they type. Shoulder stretching is needed to maintain balance in the upper back and shoulder muscles. As gravity pulls you forward, the muscles on the front of our chest and shoulders shorten, which can lead to disc degeneration, head and neck pain, and rotator cuff impingement. Stretching your shoulder muscles can improve your posture and shoulder function.
- Stand straight, and squeeze your shoulder blades together as hard as you can. Hold this for three seconds, and release. Do this up to 12 times. This retracts your scapula, which opens the chest and fights against the tendency for the back to hunch over.
- Get on all fours on the floor so your hands are flat on the floor under your shoulders and your knees are on the floor under your hips. You will be in a tabletop position. Take your right hand under the body so it comes onto the floor between your left hand and left knee. The palm should be facing up. Rest your right shoulder on the ground, and stretch your right hand toward the left. To go deeper take the left arm to your left hip, or reach the hand straight up toward the ceiling. Hold for at least 30 seconds before switching to the other side.
Your back controls much of your movement and is connected to your abs, glutes, lats, and paraspinals. It is important to keep this part of your body strong and flexible. According to the Mayo Clinic, most people will experience lower back pain at some point whether from being sedentary or being active.
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, and bring them toward your chest. Reach your hands to your knees, and slowly rock from side to side and forward and back. To deepen the stretch, reach your hands around your knees, clasping opposite elbows. You can stay in this position as long as it is comfortable.
- Remain lying on your back, and again bring the knees toward the chest. Put your arms out straight on either side of your body, palms facing down. Slowly lower both your knees to to the right keeping your shoulders on the floor. Set your knees on the floor, and focus on pulling your left shoulder toward the floor. Hold this for one to two minutes, and repeat on the other side.
- Lie on our stomach, and lift yourself up on your forearms with the palms on the floor. Check to make sure your elbows are on the floor under your shoulders. Press into your palms and the tops of your feet while pressing your pubic bone forward. Hold for one to three minutes.
The abs are used in almost every activity from lifting something, to twisting, to reaching to grab something.
- Lie on the floor with your hands palm facing down under your shoulders. Push into your hands, and straighten your arms to lift up your upper body, leaving your hips and legs on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat three or four times.
Your hip flexors allow you to drop into a deep squat and move your legs. When you sit at a desk all day, the hip flexors shorten and can impact your lower back.
- Sit on the floor, and bring your feet together in front of you. Hold onto your ankles, and use your elbows to push your thighs and knees toward the floor. Hold for at least 30 seconds, and repeat as needed.
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, and bring them toward your chest. Take your hands and grab the outside of both feet, using your hands to pull your feet toward the floor. Your knees should spread wide on either side of your body. Hold for at least 30 seconds, and repeat as needed.
The glutes are heavy muscles that don’t get much attention, so when they do they will quickly tighten up. It’s also important to keep your glutes flexible to avoid hip, knee, and even back pain.
- Lie on your back, and bend your knees so they are directly over your hips. Take your right ankle to your left knee so that your right knee is facing out. Reach your hands around your left thigh, just under the knee, and pull the left knee toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
- Sit on the floor with your feet out in front of you. Bend your right knee so your right foot is near your left knee. Take your right hand to the floor behind your back, and then take your left hand so that your left elbow is pressing on the outside of your right knee. Push against your right knee, and twist the entire body toward the right. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat on the other side.
Runners in particular will often get tight quads. If you’re not utilizing your glutes and hamstrings properly, your quads will take on the extra work.
- Stand straight, and bend your right leg bringing your foot toward your butt. Catch the right foot with the right hand, and pull the right heel toward the glutes. You can hold onto a chair or the wall for balance. Hold for 10 seconds, and then switch legs.
- Kneel on the floor, and take your right leg in front of you so that your right foot is flat on the ground and your right knee is at a right angle. Keeping your back straight, push into the right leg so that the right knee pushes forward. Hold for 20 seconds, and then switch legs.
It is common for hamstrings to get tight, especially if you run, bike, or sit at a desk all day. Tight hamstrings impact your back, hips, and knees.
- Stand straight with your feet hip-width apart. Put your hands on your hips, and keeping your legs and back straight, bend at the hips bringing your head toward the floor. Release your arms, and reach toward the floor. Hang here at least 30 seconds.
- Stand straight, and bring your right foot forward two to three feet so that your left foot is behind your right foot. Both of your feet should be facing forward. With a flat back, bend at the hips, and bend over your right leg reaching your arms toward the floor. Hang here at least 30 seconds, and then switch sides.