Yet weaving a little bit of movement into our morning routine can help start our day on the right note. "Teaching your body and your nervous system how to move properly first thing will set the body up for success throughout the day," says physical therapist Jacob VanDenMeerendonk, DPT.
In particular, he recommends focusing on bringing some mobility to the thoracic spine (the part that attaches to your ribcage that protects your heart and lungs). "Its primary function is meant to rotate left and right," he says. "However, with today's forward-oriented lifestyle (computers, desk work, cell phones), we are seeing a reduction in this rotation."
- Jacob VanDenMeerendonk, DPT, physical therapist based in Southern California
And unfortunately, he explains, when our bodies lose mobility in one area, we tend to compensate with too much mobility in another body part. In this case, that could mean the neck, shoulders, or low back—but those areas were never meant to take on that kind of stress.
The good news? You can bring back mobility to your upper spine in just a few minutes a day. Dr. VanDenMeerendonk shares these five gentle moves that you can do right after you wake up. They're taken directly from his app, Dr. Jacob, and don't require any equipment other than a chair. Best of all, they can be done in just about the time it takes for your coffee to brew.
1. Seated thoracic reach-ups
- Sit at the edge of a chair, knees slightly wider than hips.
- Grab your left knee with your right hand, then raise your left hand straight up to the ceiling, looking up at your fingertips.
- Transition back and forth between sides, for 10 reps on each.
2. Seated thoracic reach-backs
- Either still on the chair or sitting cross-legged on the floor, grab your left knee with your right hand.
- Leading with the left elbow, extend that arm back behind you, rotating your back and looking toward your fingertips.
- Repeat 10 times on that side, then switch to the other side.
3. Tripod thread-the-needle to reach-up
- Kneel with your left knee and hand on the floor and right foot also planted flat on the ground, leg turned out to the side so that your right inner thigh faces forward.
- Thread the right hand through the space between your left knee and hand, rotating your chest to the left, then untwist and reach it up to the ceiling, allowing your chest to open to the right side. Aim to create a straight vertical line between the hands, and look toward the top hand.
- Repeat 10 times, then switch to the other side.
4. Classic thread-the-needle
- Start on hands and knees, then thread your left arm in between your right knee and hand.
- Allow your head and left shoulder to gently rest on the floor. Keep your hips back above your heels.
- Switch sides, and go back and forth to perform 10 reps in each direction.
5. Standing archers
- Stand in a lunge with the right foot forward, both legs slightly bent, back heel high, and arms reaching forward straight out from the chest.
- Pull your right elbow back and allow the torso to follow, until you're in the position you'd make if you were pulling on a bow and arrow.
- Repeat 10 times, then switch sides.
Watch Dr. VanDenMeerendonk demonstrate each of the five moves here:
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