The Stretch a Champion Gymnast Does First Thing Every Morning Happens To Be the Easiest of Them All

Photo: Getty Images/ JohnnyGreig
Gymnastics and flexibility go hand in hand. You can't nail a full split or land a full-twisting layout if you've got tight hips and hammies, which is why Olivia Karas, former NCAA D1 women's gymnastic champion and author of the new book Confessions of a Division-1 Athlete: A Dad and Daughter's Guide to Survivalstarts every morning with the exact same limb-loosening stretch.

"Whenever you are going to ask your body to perform explosive moves, then oftentimes quickly stop, you need to have the range of motion which will enable your body to perform difficult moves," she says of the importance of keeping her body limber. "Plus, when you train as often as I did in the past, upwards of 28 to 30 hours a week... you have to make sure your muscles stayed long and flexible."

Experts In This Article
  • Olivia Karas, Olivia Karas is a former NCAA D-1 Women's Gymnastic Champion and author of the new book "Confessions of a Division-1 Athlete: A Dad and Daughter's Guide to Survival.
  • Savanna Stevens, yoga teacher and founder of S3 Yoga

Her swear-by move the minute she gets out of bed? The good, old-fashioned forward fold. "It sounds silly, but the classic bend over and touch your toes is my go-to, especially given all the sitting I'm doing these days," she says. "I'm always tight in the morning, especially the morning after a heavy leg day."

In addition to the physical benefits the move offers—like helping to loosen your hips, hamstrings, and calves—the standing forward fold also comes with some mental and emotional benefits, too. "Forward folds stretch and create space between the vertebrae in the spine, which is the commander of our autonomic nervous system," Savanna Stevens, RYT-200, founder of S3 Yoga, previously told Well+Good. "This system directly affects our response to stress, so folds in yoga are really soothing to the nervous system, mind, and body."

While you're folded forward, it helps to create space for better circulation to your spinal cord, which in turn sends a calming signal to your brain. This moves your body out of fight-or-flight mode and into rest and digest, which means it can instantly help calm you down (and explains why forward folds are such a mainstay at the beginning and end of a yoga class). Not a bad way to start your day, huh?

How to do a forward fold

To do the move properly, you don't need gymnast-level skills—just follow these simple steps:

  1. Stand with your feet hips-width distance apart with your weight evenly distributed between your feet.
  2. Let your upper body hang over your legs, keeping a micro-bend in your knees.
  3. If you're a beginner, you can grab your opposite elbows with each hand (in yoga, this is known as the ragdoll pose), or you can reach down toward your toes.
  4. No matter which variation you choose to take, keep your head heavy and neck long, and try to settle deeper into the pose with every exhale.

While Karas' aerial cartwheel may not be in the cards for most of us, her morning stretch is certainly something we can all integrate into our regular routines.

For more morning yoga poses worth trying, follow along with the series below. 

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