Whether you have IT band tightness from running, need a stretch to help soothe your period cramps, or want to nix the tension in your jawline, we've got something for you. Get ready to unwind.
8 stretches for aching muscles that you're going to want to bookmark for 2022
1. For outer thigh tightness: standing TFL stretch
If your outer thighs are aching, it's likely because you have a tight IT band, Austin Martinez, CSCS, director of education for StretchLab, previously told Well+Good. Because you can't stretch the IT band itself, you'll need to loosen the muscles around it instead. Start with your tensor fascia latae (or TFL), the muscle that connects to the gluteus maximus and runs parallel to the IT band. To do so, stand up and cross your right ankle behind your left ankle. Bend through your left knee, and push your right hip out to the right, holding on to a chair or bench to stabilize yourself. Hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat on the left side.
2. For constipation: happy baby
When things aren't going the way you want them to in the old GI tract, you'll try just about anything—right? Earlier this year, we asked a few pelvic floor experts to tell us which poses will help you get things moving, and happy baby was on that list. If you're unfamiliar with this common yoga pose or "asana" (called ananda balasana in Sanskrit), you can get into happy baby by lying on your back and doing the following: Bend your knees toward your chest with the soles of your feet facing the ceiling. Your knees should be at about a 90-degree angle. Use your hands to grab your feet or your peace fingers to grab your big toes. Bring your knees wide toward your armpits, and gently rock from side to side. Breathe.
3. For foot pain: downward dog
Earlier this year, Jackie Sutera, DPM, a podiatrist with Vionic Labs, blew our minds when she told us that foot pain tends to originate from the calf muscles. "I would argue that calf stretches are the most important for the overall foot," she says. "This will lengthen and loosen both the Achilles and plantar fascia—two very important structures that will cause inability to walk properly and pain if there is a problem." With that said, she told us that downward dog pose (adho mukha shvanasana) is one of the best stretches for the tricky muscles on the opposite side of the shins.
To try downward dog, come to your hands and knees and tuck your toes. Push through your heels to lift you hips, straighten your legs, and point your tail bone to the sky. Gently push your heels toward the ground to really feel the magic of the calf stretch, and slightly bend your knees if your hamstrings are tight.
Here's the right way to downward dog:
4. For achey desk hips: warrior I
If you spend most days sitting, your hips are probably screaming by 5 p.m. To help them out (and ensure you get up from your desk at least once today), stand up for Warrior I pose (virabhadrasana I). Place your right foot forward and your left foot back, bringing your feet as wide as your hips for stabilization. Bend your front knee while leaving your back leg straight. Your back toes should point to 2 o'clock. Stretch your arms alongside your ears and hold for 20 seconds on each side. Warrior I is definitely not an easy stretch, but it's an effective one.
5. For facial tension: thumb slides
Raise your hand if you hold a lot of tension in your jaw. Wow, there are so many of us! Luckily, Inge Theron, founder of FaceGym, has a simple exercise you can do when it starts to feel like the weight of the world is resting on your cheeks. First, apply a facial oil to your skin. Then, slide your thumbs from the top of your nose, across your eyebrows, and onto your temples. Draw three circles onto your temples. Then repeat the move three to five times.
6. For your low back: the pillow stretch
No stretch called "the pillow stretch" could be bad, but this one's extra yummy. Place two pillows under your pelvis and hang your upper body off a bed or couch. Take 10 deep breaths (or more) in this position and feel the tension melt away from your lower back.
7. For menstrual cramps: the Double Knee Hugg*r
You know how having your period can make you want to curl up into a ball? Well, the Double Knee Hugg*r stretch is basically a way of doing that. Instead of turning on your side, lie down on your back and bring your knees into your chest, clutching your hands behind the backs of your knees. Close your eyes and enjoy the stretch. It also targets your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes to bring relief to the whole general area that may be suffering from period pain.
8. For tight shoulders: child's pose arm lift
"If you're tight in your thoracic spine [upper back], it probably means you're weak in that area too," Shelby Smith, a personal trainer based in Rhode Island, previously told Well+Good. "So you'll want to pair stretching moves with strengthening moves." Child's pose (balasana) is usually about as chill of a stretch as they come, but Smith's variation makes sure you sneak in the strengthening, too. Ready? Start in child's pose with your knees out wide and your hips pressing toward your feet. Extend your arms forward and turn your palms to face each other so that your thumbs are pointed up to the sky. Slowly raise and lower one arm at a time. Complete this move for 30 to 60 seconds, alternating sides.
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