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 the best morning stretches, right when you wake up, you may be able to save yourself from some of that discomfort.
Morning stretches are a crucial habit 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.”
The Benefits of Stretching in the Morning
According to Kelsey Decker, NSCA-CPT, the education coordinator at StretchLab, an assisted-stretching studio chain in Los Angeles, some of the benefits of stretching first thing in the morning include increasing internal body temperature which warms up the muscles and increasing oxygen to the body and brain so you’re ready to tackle the day. Also, Brannigan says 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.”
And, Decker adds, stretching in general, no matter the time of the day, offers many benefits including increasing flexibility, mobility, and joint range of motion, as well as decreasing recovery time and preventing injury. In other words, the benefits of stretching in the morning are plenty.
With that in mind, these are some of the best morning stretches to add to your AM routine that cater to lengthening muscles and improving circulation.
11 of the Best Morning Stretches To Do When You Get Out of Bed
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.”
5. Cross Legged Side Stretch
To wake up your sides in the morning, try this yummy side stretch, which Decker says you’ll really feel in your hips and lower back.
How to do it: Sit in a cross leg seated position, but with the legs next to each other rather than stacked. “Hinge at your hips and fold forward reaching your arms out long,” Decker says. “From there, walk your hands to the left, bringing your chest over your left knee.” Hold the stretch for 30 seconds while taking deep diaphragmatic breaths. Then walk your hands back to the center, switch legs, and repeat on the other side.
6. Foot and Calf Stretch
Don’t forget to give your calves some love too. “Calves are such an overused muscle in daily movement and fitness and when stretched properly can provide overall release of tension throughout the entire body,” Decker says. You’ll feel this best morning stretch from the arch of your foot into the upper calf muscle, she adds. Grab a stretching strap if you have one on hand. A dog leash, towel, or resistance band will also do the trick.
How to do it: Get into a seated position with one leg out in front of you. “Use a stretch strap to wrap the strap around the pad of your foot,” Decker says. “With the remainder of the straps in both hands, pull back trying to bring your toes closer to your shin.” Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and then repeat on the other leg.
7. Kneeling Lunge Stretch
Our hips are constantly flexed while in a sitting position due to improper posture or overuse during fitness, Decker notes. For that reason, she says it's important to stretch the muscle to help release tension and improve posture. You’ll feel the pull for this stretch through your hip flexor and maybe a little on your quad. If you have knee issues, Decker recommends using a pillow or pad under your back knee for comfort and support.
How to do it: “Bring your left leg to a 90 degree angle in a lunge position with your back leg bent and knee in contact with the ground,” Decker says. “Keeping your chest upright and core engaged, squeeze your right glute to keep hips inline and lean your entire body into your front left leg.” Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
8. Chest Opener Stretch
Sitting down all day is not the best. We know this. Still, many of us are guilty of the habit. The result: “Sitting for long periods of time or just not being aware of body posture tends to lead to rounded shoulders which tightens our chest,” Decker says. This chest opener will help combat that tightens. You’ll need a strap for this one, too.
How to do it: “In a seated position, hold onto each side of the strap, hands just outside of shoulder width, and bring arms above your head to start,” Decker says. “Slowly bend your elbows to a goal post position and rotate your hands backwards to create a stretch across your chest, externally rotating your shoulders.” Hold the stretch for 30 seconds while taking deep breaths.
9. Lumbar Rotation Stretch
You’ll need to get on the floor for this one, so be sure to roll out a yoga mat if needed. Decker says this moving stretch will help create mobility through the spine. And, after three to four open and closing reps of the arms, you may notice increased mobility in the spine, too.
How to do it: “While lying on your right side, bend your knees and bring your arms out in front of your chest like an alligator mouth,” Decker says. “Your top arm will open away from the bottom hand and come across your body until it reaches the other side or a point of good tension and hold here for a breath.” The key, she adds, is to follow your top hand with your eyes as you open and close the top arm. Then, roll over and repeat the stretch on the other side.
10. Child’s Pose Stretch
Stretching can be a meditative practice and child's pose is the perfect example. Use this stretch to give yourself a moment to just breathe and be present, while releasing tension in the back and hips. Decker says these are the most common areas our bodies tend to hold tightness.
How to do it: Start by kneeling on the ground with your knees wide and your feet together creating a V. Then, “sit your glutes back towards your heels and lean your upper body forward,” Decker says. “Walk your hands out in front of you to lengthen your spine and keep your glutes as close to your heels as possible to open through your hips.” Sit in the position for 30 seconds to a minute.
11. Pigeon Stretch
The pigeon stretch is another opportunity to unwind and breathe, while releasing tension in the hips. Decker notes there are two variations depending on how deep of a stretch you’re going for.
How to do it: “Sitting on the ground, bring your right knee in front of your body at a 90 degree angle and straighten your back leg behind you,” Decker says. “Keep your hips square and chest up tall to start.” If you’re feeling the stretch here, you can hold here. To deepen the stretch, if you’re up for it, Decker instructs coming down onto the forearms and then down to your chest, feeling the stretch in your front legs as you externally rotate the hip. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute.
How Long To Stretch in the 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 morning 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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