There are two common sources of pain and/or discomfort for my clients. One is muscular tightness. When muscles are tight, mobility is also limited. If the body is forced to move in a way that the muscles don’t allow, injury and pain can occur. Think of muscles like this: licorice that has been placed in the freezer is taut and stiff. This is equivalent to tight muscles. Now imagine doing a workout with muscles like that. Not a good idea as it is more susceptible to injury. Through a consistent stretching program, the body becomes more mobile and more flexible, decreasing pain and chances of injury and allowing you to perform better during your workouts.
Another common source of pain is muscular imbalance. If the muscles on one side of the body are tight from misalignment, the other side gets ‘sleepy’ and doesn’t turn on when they’re supposed to. This can cause pain over time. Stretching can help bring the body back into alignment by loosening the excessively tight parts.
Phew! That was a lot. Now onto the meaty stuff….
I have collaborated with Salma from The Write Balance to bring you two separate stretching routines to have you feeling more balanced and aligned. You can find her full body post workout routine from Salma here.
My routine (see below) was designed to counteract the actions of daily life, such as sitting at the computer or watching TV. It will target common areas of tightness allowing you to be free of pain. It is focused on function.
Along with each stretch below, you’ll also see which muscles it targets and how it helps. When I am training a client, it is also an opportunity to give them the tools to fix their body’s imbalances. If they understand why this movement helps, there is a better chance of adherence and thus, improvement. My goal is to make clients feel better than when they first came to see me.
As always, please feel free to DM me with any questions you may have. And here’s the program!
Functional Stretching Routine for Balance and Alignment
If you are a beginner, hold for as long as you feel comfortable, gradually increasing the time and working your way up to 60 seconds, 3 times.
Targets: Chest. You should feel this stretch all along your chest muscle, including where the shoulder joint is.
Counteracts: hunching due to device usage, cooking, desk work.
Variation 1: Bend your elbows to 90 degrees and bring your arms up by your head like a cactus. Bring your elbows towards one another behind you.
Variation 2: Lace your fingers together and squeeze your scapulae (shoulder blades) together.
Variation 3: Start with one cactus arm like in Variation 1. The other arm can relax. Place the cactus arm against a wall or door frame and gently rotate your torso away from the wall/door frame.
Halfway Up Stretch
Targets: Hamstring. A common stretch is standing up and touching your toes. Doing it incorrectly can actually stretch your lower back. I prefer this one for hamstrings because it is easier to feel in the hamstrings for most people.
Counteracts: sitting and slouching position, pelvic tilt.
Variation 1: Standing tall, start to hinge at the hips until you can feel a stretch in the back of your thighs (ie. hamstrings). Keep your knees soft. Maintain a flat back (not rounded). It may feel like you are sticking your buttocks out. Rest your hands just above or below your knee joint.
Variation 2: If you feel it in your low back, bend your knees a bit more. Maintain a flat back (not rounded). It may feel like you are sticking your buttocks out. Rest your hands just above or below your knee joint.
Targets: abductors (inner thighs), pelvic tilt.
Counteracts: sitting and slouching position, poor posture. (Salma’s figure 4 stretch is also great for this!)
Variation 1: Sit with your knees together. Slowly drop your knees to either side, allowing the bottoms of your feet to meet. Only go as low as you feel comfortable. You can place pillows or yoga blocks under your knees for support.
Variation 2: Start with Variation 1. Then rotate your torso to face the direction your knee is pointing. Place your hands on either side of the knee and lean into the stretch. Repeat on the other side.
Targets: glutes (particularly glute med and min), erector spinae (low back), obliques (side abdominals), pelvis.
Counteracts: sitting position, poor posture.
Start with crossing your R leg over your L leg. Then turn to face your R leg. For a deeper stretch, place your elbow on the outer side of your R leg. Repeat on the other side.
Targets: lengthens spine, hips, hamstrings, calves, hands, wrists, neck and opens up chest and shoulders.
Counteracts: sitting position, discomfort associated with typing.
Start in standing, with feet hip distance apart, or where comfortable. Reach your arms up and slowly swan dive forward, hands landing on the mat. Lean into your hands to open up the shoulders, let your head fall. Feet can be flat or you can rise up on your toes. Maintain a neutral back (not rounded). To achieve this, you may need to raise your glutes up towards the ceiling, as if a string was pulling it up.
Targets: balance, trunk, stability of the pelvis.
Counteracts: limited mobility in the lumbar spine, pelvis.
Standing with toes touching, engage your core and find balance. Raise your arms up, no higher than shoulder height. Gently rotate to the left, while maintaining the forward facing position of the pelvis. Hold for 1-2 counts and rotate onto the right side. Work your way up to 10 per side.
I hope you try this when seeking more balance and alignment in your body. If you do, let me know what you think!