In theory, getting up early for a pre-work yoga class is never a bad idea—it can help to undo the tech neck, tight hips, and lower-back aches brought on by the daily grind and intensified by long stretches of time in bed. But let’s be real: In an era when being “tired all the time” has its own clever acronym, an extra hour in bed often wins out over warrior poses at dawn. Fortunately, you don’t have to fully sacrifice lithe, flexible muscles in favor of a full eight hours of sleep. According to Samira Mustafaeva, a former world-champion gymnast and founder of the SM Stretching studios in Los Angeles and Russia, all you need is an eight-minute morning stretch sesh to set you up for a more limber day.
“Stretching can be done at any time of the day, but the morning is especially great because it awakens your muscles from slumber and gets you ready to go about your day,” she says, adding that a shorter routine is actually better because your joints will be stiffer after sleep. This is especially true if you’re starting as soon as you get out of bed, without a workout as a warmup. “Doing a few stretches in the a.m. with no prior workout is fine—just don’t do anything too sharp or pull too hard,” she says. “Push yourself as far as you are comfortable, without any serious discomfort, to wake up the body.”
Mustafaeva’s favorite morning stretches target all of the muscles in the spine and lower body that often become cramped during days spent sitting in front of a computer. And that’s not their only benefit. “Stretching in the morning activates all the bodily processes in the right ways, such as [slightly] boosting your metabolism, reducing drowsiness, and improving one’s blood circulation by aiding in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and organs. Not to mention, it’s just a ‘feel good’ way to wake up and invigorate the start of your day!”
Follow the morning stretch sequence below for an alternate way of saluting the sun—no chaturangas required.
1. Plank pose
Time: 1 minute
Okay, I know—60 seconds of a core-quaking plank probably wasn’t what you had in mind when you envisioned your leisurely morning stretch routine. But as Mustafaeva mentioned before, your muscles aren’t warmed up after sleep and it’s important to do get your blood circulating before you go into deeper stretches.
Luckily, you can choose your fighter for this one: either a straight-armed plank or one on your forearms. “Place your arms or elbows directly under your shoulders while facing forward,” says Mustafaeva. “Squeeze the glutes and engage your core as you exhale. Keep a flat back and do not arch your back. Keep the tailbone tucked in and keep breathing.” Once a minute is up, relax—and know that the hardest part of this sequence is over.
2. Forward fold
Time: 1 minute
This stretch loosens up the entire back body, which is often tight after sitting at a desk all day. “Sit at a 90 degree angle with your legs together straight out in front of you. Make sure your knees are flat not bent, with your feet flexed,” instructs Mustafaeva. “Arch the lower back and fold yourself forwards. Try to lean forward with your stomach first, followed by your chest, while keeping your head forward. You should feel the stretch in the knee ligaments and the back of the thighs.”
3. Butterfly position
Time: 2 minutes
You didn’t think Mustafaeva would forget about the inner thighs, did you? “Place the soles of your feet together, pulling your feet inward as close as possible toward your body,” she says. “Your knees should be facing the sides. Sitting upright with a straight back, place your arms in front of you and lean forward, crawling the fingertips away from the body and stretching out the back. Place your stomach on your legs, followed by your chest. Feel the stretch in the pelvic muscles and inner thighs.” Bonus: This is a great prep stretch if you’re working towards a full split.
4. Backwards frog
Time: 2 minutes
This is another great one for the inner thighs, but it also brings the hips to the party. “Get on your knees and elbows and move your legs apart to the sides. Make sure the legs and pelvis are parallel while the lower legs are bent at a 90-degree angle,” says Mustafaeva. “Do not arch your back and try to push your pelvic region as close to the floor as possible. Your thighs will either make a triangle shape or be flat on the floor depending on your flexibility level. Feel the stretch in the pelvic muscles and inner thighs.”
5. Torso stretch
Time: 2 minutes (1 minute on each side)
To end the routine, Mustafaeva suggests going for some side-body action. “Siting on your butt, spread your legs apart as far as possible to both sides. Make sure they are tilted on both the left and the right, with feet and knees facing up,” she says. “With a flat back and shoulder blades together, extend the left arm up and tilt your body to the right, stretching the left side. Repeat the same thing on the other leg—right arm is extended up and tilt your body to the left, stretching the right side.” Follow up this morning stretch with your daily horoscope and some “banana eggs”, and you’ve got the recipe for a perfect morning.
Yes, you too can become a morning person—here’s your four-step guide to getting up earlier in just 3 weeks. Plus, check out these tips from early risers to further reduce your dependence on the snooze button.
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