Struggling to find the motivation to move daily? Try adding a short stretch session to your morning or evening routine. Climb fit’s Claire Ayling runs through 8 of her favourite stretches designed to uplift your mood and kick start your day.
The last few months have been pretty chaotic with everything that’s going on. Our routines are all over the place, and many of us are feeling more anxious and stressed out than usual. Struggling to find the motivation to move daily? Try adding a short stretch session to your morning or evening routine. Static stretching can have a profound impact on our mood and well-being by releasing endorphins and kickstarting our parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) giving us a break from “fight or flight” mode.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t have to be a contortionist to reap the benefits. Take your time, hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds and repeat them 2-3 times if you’re feeling enthusiastic. Be sure to breathe deeply through your nose to try and “relax” into each stretch and increase your range of flexibility.
Here are a few of my fave go-to stretches:
h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Upper Trapezius Stretch
Holding tension in your shoulders or neck? Spend a lot of time hunched over a computer screen or looking down at your phone? Overactive upper traps? This one’s for you. Super simple but it feels so so good! Stand up nice and tall to begin. Pull your shoulder blades back and down. Imagine you’re a puppet, suspended by a string, pulling your head up and creating lots of space between your shoulders and ears. Reach one arm straight out next to your body. With your other hand, reach over your head and gently pull your head towards your shoulder. Breathe and hold this stretch for 15-30 seconds. Play around with your eye-line to feel slight variations in this neck stretch. Try looking straight ahead first, then try tilting your head to “smell” your armpit.
Repeat for the opposite side. For your final variation, look down at the ground, interlock your hands and gently pull your head towards the ground by holding at the base of the skull.
h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Chest Opener
Another simple favourite, this one is great for stretching out your chest and shoulders as well as correcting bad posture. Try this one standing up or sitting down. Start in an upright position. Really focus on pinning your shoulder blades back and down. Tuck your chin in close to your body. Clasp your hands behind your back with your fingers interlaced. Try and bring your palms together if you can. If you can’t, that’s also okay. That’s something for you to work towards! Actively pull your hands back and down towards the ground, opening up your chest and shoulders as much as possible. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds and then relax.
Optional: repeat 2 or 3 active holds to really get the most out of this one. If you have particularly rounded shoulders, I also recommend adding in mini stretch breaks throughout the day to work on your schedule. Popping the kettle on to make some tea? Do a quick chest opener while you’re waiting for the water to boil. Easy peasy.
h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Forward Fold Variations
Loosen up those stiff legs with a forward fold. Although this one may seem easy, it can be quite challenging if you have tight hamstrings and let’s face it, most of us do! Start standing upright with your feet hip-width apart. Take a deep breath in. Exhale and bend forward at the hips. Try and keep your legs straight without locking your knees. Allow the crown of your head to gently drop towards the floor. Grab onto the opposite elbow with the opposite hand and gently rock from right to left. Return to centre and if possible try touching the floor with your fingertips or the palms of your hands. Press your chest gently towards your knees.
If you have very tight hamstrings, and you find this stretch challenging, modify by bending slightly at the knees and letting your fingertips dangle in the air, or wherever feels comfortable. Breathe deeply and try and relax into the pose. When returning to a standing position, take your time and slowly stand upright, moving one vertebra at a time. For another juicy variation, cross your legs by placing one leg in front of the other and repeat. This is great for stretching out your Iliotibial Band.
h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Thread the Needle
An excellent stretch for thoracic spinal mobility, as well as your shoulders and chest. Start in a neutral tabletop position. Your hands should be shoulder-width apart on the floor with elbows and shoulders stacked directly about your hands/wrists. And, your knees should be hip-width apart with your hips stacked over your knees and your feet directly behind you. Inhale and reach your right arm up above you. Look up towards your hand. Exhale and reach your right arm under your left arm, still looking towards your hand.
Lower your right shoulder and ear onto the floor. Breather and hold this position for 15-30 seconds before returning to tabletop position and repeating on the other side. For a dynamic stretch, hold this pose for one breath before shifting straight to the other side. Repeat swapping from left to right, and moving with your breath 6-8 times.
h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Cat-Cow Pose
Relieve tension in your neck and back by getting your spine moving. Like thread the needle, this one starts out in tabletop pose. Inhale deeply and drop your belly towards the floor, arch your back, lift your chest up, and tilt your head back and look up towards the ceiling. This is Cow Pose.
Exhale and round your spine up towards the ceiling. Engage your abs by imagining you’re pulling your belly button back towards your spine and tuck your chin in towards your chest. This is the Cat Pose. Inhale and slowly move back into cow pose vertebrae by vertebrae. Exhale and return to cat pose.
Repeat 2-3 times in each position.
h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Active Child’s Pose
Start kneeling on the floor with your toes together. For more of a hip stretch, spread your knees wide (about as wide as a yoga mat if you have one) but keep your toes touching. If you have tight hips, modify by keeping your knees and thighs closer together.
Sit back on your feet. Take a deep breath and then lean forward. Reach your hands out in front of you as far as you can in an active stretch with your elbows off the floor, and palms facing down, touching the floor. Allow your forehead to gently touch the floor. You will feel a stretch in your shoulders and chest.
From this position, walk your hands over to the left until your torso is in line with your left knee. You should feel a stretch across the right side of your body and back. Hold this position for several deep breaths before moving back to the centre and then across to your right.
Repeat 2-3 times in each position.
h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Seated Butterfly Stretch
Sit on the floor with your feet together and straighten your back, staying upright and holding onto your feet. Lean forward from your hips and gently push your elbows against your thighs/knees. Try and get your knees as close to the floor as you can. For an active variation, squeeze your feet together and try and push your knees closer to the floor by engaging your hips opening your hips up further.
Hold this position for 15-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
h2 style="white-space:pre-wrap;">Legs Up the Wall
This is precisely what it sounds like! If you really don’t have time to stretch and are feeling super stressed out, I urge you to give this one ago. Pop your headphones in and put on some relaxing music. Take a moment to focus on your breathing with your legs up the wall. Mini mindfulness practice coming right up! This inversion is excellent for relieving tired legs, and gently stretching out the backs of your legs.
I find the easiest way to get into this pose is to sit sideways next to the wall (as close as you can get!), with your thigh touching the wall and from there, swing your legs up and roll onto your back. It’s just as graceful as it sounds. Depending on your height and flexibility, you will want to play around with your position. You may find this pose comfier if you have a little more space between your lower back and the wall.
Optional: use a folded blanket or pillow to support your lower back.