Sit a lot? Even if you have perfect posture, spending a lot of time sedentary is bad for your body on multiple levels. For starters, sitting eight hours a day has been shown to raise your risk of stroke, heart disease, and hypertension, to name a few. Moreover, studies show that long periods of sitting can lead to lower back pain, while other research indicates it can strain the muscles in your neck and shoulder. But if you’ve got a desk job, sitting is kind of par for the course. What you need (in addition to regular exercise) is a morning stretch routine that will work out the kinks and set you up for feeling good.
Doing morning stretches is a simple investment with big return. “You don’t need a huge amount of time — there are some easy stretches you can do in 10 minutes that will make a difference in how you feel for the rest of the day,” says Jayson Lee, a personal trainer in New York City.
What might those be? Take a look at the ultimate morning stretch routine below, and promise yourself you’ll do these stretches at least four times a week — and preferably, daily. How long you hold each stretch depends in part on how your body feels. (“As a general rule, count slowly to 10, then release,” says Lee.) But don’t bounce, and don’t force the stretch: Your muscles and ligaments are tight and stiff after a night of sleeping, and you could risk injury.
The Stretch: Press-Ups
What it stretches: Pectoral muscles; deltoids
How to: Lie on your stomach, bend your elbows, and place your hands beneath your shoulders, palms flat against the floor. Press your hands into the ground and raise your chest off the floor, lifting your head and focusing your gaze on the ceiling. Release back down to the floor.
The Stretch: Chest Opener
What it stretches: Pectoral muscles; latissimus dorsi; biceps
How to: Grab a rope or rolled-up towel at either end with your hands. Standing with feet hip-width apart, straighten your arms overhead, raising the towel with you. Bend elbows and bring towel down behind your shoulder blades. Press back elbows back and chest forward to feel the stretch in your chest and pectoral muscles.
The Stretch: Shoulder Stretch
What it stretches: Deltoids, rhombus, trapezius, latissimus dorsi
How to: Sit or stand. Clasp hands in front of you, fingers interlaced. Rotate wrists so hands face away from your body. Press your palms skyward, straightening your arms overhead. Reach as high to the sky as you can, allowing shoulders to rise, then pressing shoulders down. Bend elbows and lower clasped hands to behind your head, palms cupping your head. Press elbows back for a gentle chest stretch, then bring elbows together in front of your head to feel an upper back stretch.
The Stretch: Knees to Chest
What it stretches: Lower back
How to: Lie on your back. Bend your knees and bring them to your chest. Hold the outside of each knee with a hand. Round your back, raise your head off the ground, and slowly rock back and forth for 60 seconds.
The Stretch: Lower Body Twist
What it stretches: Erector spinae, external obliques, internal obliques, glutes
How to: Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on floor. Place arms out to either side. Raise your feet off the floor and bring your knees to your chest. Slowly drop your knees to the right, allowing your hips to follow. Turn your torso and head to the left and hold. Bring knees back to center, then drop them to the left, turning your head to the right.
The Stretch: Cat Cow
What it stretches: Erector spinae; splenius capitus and splenius cervicis (neck muscles)
How to: To start this popular yoga pose, get onto all fours. Inhale and raise your head toward the ceiling while imagining your core is being pulled toward to floor, creating an arch in your back. Exhale and lower your head to toward the floor, round your spine, imagining a string pull the center of your spine toward the ceiling. Relax and repeat.
The Stretch: Head Rolls
What it stretches: Levator scapulae; trapezius; splenius capitus and splenius cervicis (a.k.a. your major neck muscles)
How to: Stand or sit with back straight, head facing forward. Turn your head to the right, then use you chin to begin a slow circular motion: Drop your chin to your chest, then raise it to the left side, then skyward, then center it again. Reverse direction.
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