Think about the last time you stretched. It was probably shortly after waking up this morning, giving your muscles a good streeettccchhh to help you get out of bed and ready for the day. Now, think about the last time you actively stretched. Maybe in a recent yoga class? Maybe after a tough workout? Active stretching is when you focus on building flexibility and range of motion throughout your entire body: purposefully stretching to lengthen muscle.
Flexibility is too often put on the back-burner in a fitness routine, but it is so important for health and wellbeing, as it’s essential for longterm joint health, balance, injury prevention and pain reduction. Now this is especially true if you’re in a job that requires you to sit for much of the day, as a sitting position naturally shortens and tightens most of the muscles in our body.
Not surprisingly, consistency is key when it comes to flexibility, and it helps if you’re stretching regularly. Daily is great, but 2-3 times will do the trick as well. You can set a goal (touching your toes or easing into a split) if that helps you stick to it, but it’s really about how greater flexibility makes you feel, and getting yourself in a healthy habit of regular stretching for the long term. The best part about a stretching routine: it should take less than 5 minutes. We’ve got our 7 favorite stretches to help you work on that flexibility, mama, in no time at all!
Keep in mind that stretching is supposed to lengthen your muscles and a good stretch should feel just slightly uncomfortable – but it should never hurt. In fact it should feel good, like a pleasant kind of discomfort. Here are 3 more quick tips before you start:
- Always ease into your stretches
- Focus on breathing while holding a stretch
- Hold the stretch where you feel muscle lengthening without direct pain
Try this 7-Step Stretching Routine
The following moves are best suited to women who are planning for pregnancy and new moms, as some of the poses aren’t recommended for pregnancy due to abdominal twisting and compression on the abdomen. For all of our soon-to-be mamas reading this, check out our Top 5 Yoga Poses for Pregnancy for some relief-providing stretches!
1. High Lunge Prayer Twist: From a high lunge position, bring your palms together at your chest. Inhale and twist to bring your opposite elbow to your front knee, exhale to engage your core. Inhale to lengthen, exhale to twist. Hold position for 3-5 breaths and switch sides.
2. Proud Pigeon: Bend your front knee so it tucks up under your pelvis. Align your body so that your hips are even and parallel to the ground. If you need extra support to keep your hips lifted and to prevent sinking into one side, prop a pillow under your hips. On an inhale forward with your chest and extend your arms overhead, keeping shoulders down and chest open. Inhale to lengthen spine and extend up, exhale to push further into the stretch in your hip flexor. Repeat for 3-5 breaths and switch sides.
3. Upward-Facing Dog: Start by lying face down on ground, with hands at either side of your chest. Press your palms into the ground and lift your chest up and forwards, keeping shoulders down. Press your feet into the ground to lift your thighs and get a deeper stretch in your core and quadriceps. Your hands and tops of your feet should be the only things touching the floor. On the inhale focus on lengthening your neck and spine and on the exhale focus on pressing your chest forward. Hold this position for 3-5 breaths.
4. Dancer’s Pose: Place weight on one leg, and grab the inside of your opposite foot (or calf) with your hand. Press your foot into your hand lift until your leg is parallel to the ground. Extend your opposite arm out to balance and make sure to keep your chin lifted and shoulders down. When you inhale focus on lengthening your body and when you exhale, press your foot into your hand and push a bit deeper into the stretch. Hold for 3-5 breaths and switch sides.
5. Seated Wide-Leg Forward Fold: Sitting on the ground, open your legs into a comfortable V-shape. Tilt your pelvis forward and lead with your chest, lowering your body into a forward fold. Go only until you feel a pleasant discomfort and stretch in your hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. You can keep your head lifted for this pose. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
6. Sideways bend: Reach your arms high above your head, making sure your shoulders don’t go up towards your ears (this leads to tension in the upper back!). On an inhale, bend to one side until you feel the stretch in your obliques. Exhale to lengthen in the stretch, inhale to lift. Hold for 3 breaths and switch sides.
7. Seated Twist (Half Lord of the Fishes): While sitting on the ground, bend your left knee so your left foot is up against your right buttock. Step your right foot over your left leg so the bottom of your foot is on the ground and your right heel is against your left thigh. Support yourself with your right arm as you inhale and twist, placing your left elbow on your right knee. Make sure your shoulders don’t roll in and close your chest. You want to keep your shoulders back and chest open. Inhale to lengthen upwards, exhale to twist further into the stretch. You should feel this one primarily in your glutes! Hold for 3-5 breaths and repeat on the other side.
You’ll have enjoyed a full body stretch after finishing this set! A great way to end any stretching circuit is with some grounding and balance poses. A great place to start is the Tree Pose (pictured left) and hold for 5 breaths on each leg, and if you’re up for more of a challenge, go for the Eagle pose (pictured right) holding for 3 breaths on each leg.