For the many folks who spend a large portion of the work day sedentary and hunched over a computer screen, it’s common to feel tension and tightness in your neck, back, or hips when you wake up in the morning—only to repeat the same routine again. But with the help of specific stretches in the morning, right when you wake up, you may be able to save yourself from some of that discomfort.
It's crucial to stretch right when you wake up because, regardless of whether or not you work a desk job, time spent sleeping may lead to tighter muscles. “In the morning, we often feel tense and tight because our bodies are stuck in the same position for hours on end as we sleep,” says Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d, a stretching-focused recovery studio based in New York City. “Try beginning your day with a few active stretches to lengthen the muscle and reduce tension by promoting circulation to the area.”
“In the morning, we often feel tense and tight because our bodies are stuck in the same position for hours on end as we sleep.” —Jeff Brannigan, stretching expert
According to Brannigan, the benefits of doing certain stretches in the morning aren't just physical. Rather, “stretching helps aid in the production of endorphins that lead to better relaxation and productivity,” he says. “If you're feeling especially stressed or burnt out, a five- to 10-minute stretching routine can do wonders for your mental well being.”
With that in mind, check out four quick stretches to add to your first-thing-in-the-morning routine that cater to lengthening muscles and improving circulation.
4 of the best stretches to do in the morning, right when you wake up
1. Maybe, a neck stretch
According to Brannigan, this stretch targets the scalenes and sternocleidomastoid, which are muscles on the back and side of your neck. “This stretch helps alleviate pain in a very common area,” says Brannigan. “It also resets and realigns the neck, as the sternocleidomastoid will help to pull the head forward when it is very tight.”
Working a desk job “will almost certainly cause pain in the neck, back, and hips over time,” Brannigan says. But regardless of how you spend your days, he adds, “there is so much repetitive stress placed on [these areas] 24 hours a day,” so a "Maybe" stretch in the morning can help loosen you up.
How to do it: With one hand over the top of your head, move your ear down toward your shoulder. Hold the stretch for two seconds, return to the neutral position, and repeat 10 times per side.
2. Trap Tapp*r, a trapezius stretch
Stretching the trapezius, which is located in the lower neck and spans the upper-back and shoulder area “will help to reduce pain while relaxing and resetting the shoulder,” Brannigan says. This is important because it “helps to stabilize and move the scapula [or shoulder blade],” Brannigan says. When the trap muscle becomes tense or tight, “it will greatly restrict the movement throughout this area.”
With that in mind, this stretch is meant to relieve shoulder, upper-back, and neck pain. And, as an added bonus, it is purported to support improved posture.
How to do it: Start with your right arm against your chest, placing your right hand on your left shoulder. Then, place your left hand underneath your elbow, and gently slide your right hand over your left shoulder and down your back. Hold that stretch for two seconds, return to neutral, and repeat 10 times on each side.
3. Forward Reach*r, a spine stretch
You’ll need a chair or a stool for this stretch, which Brannigan says is meant to “lengthen the muscles throughout the back, along the spine.” Since this stretch targets muscles that run along the spine, it’s great for relieving back pain and improving posture, he says.
How to do it: “Sit in a chair with your knees open and feet flat on the floor. Straighten your spine and then drop the chin toward the chest. Reach your arms out in front of you, and then slowly drop down toward the floor and reach out, walking your fingers along the floor, away from you, as far as you can. Keep the chin tucked to the chest as you fall forward.”
4. Hello Hammies, a hamstring stretch
With the help of a foot strap, this stretch will help take pressure off the knee and lower back, which is great for those who have poor hip mobility, low back pain, hip pain, knee pain, and even sciatica, Brannigan says.
How to do it: “Lay face-up on the floor with a strap around one of your feet,” says Brannigan. “Lift the leg—keep it straight—with the strap up as high as you can, and assist by pulling on the other end of the strap, toward your chest.”
How long to stretch every morning
“Each stretch should be held for two to three seconds before returning to the start position,” says Brannigan, who suggests repeating each stretch 10 to 12 times or for five to 10 minutes.
Since Brannigan says stretching can do wonders for the body, he suggests thinking beyond the aforementioned stretches alone, should you feel inspired. “It can't hurt to stretch a little bit of everything, [especially] if you've had a poor night's sleep.” Whether you slept in a not-so-great position or were overly stressed, the stretches above (in addition to any other restorative movements that get your blood moving and muscles lengthening) can help reduce tension and stress to give you a good start to each day.
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