You see them walking in front of you. Those sorry, stiff looking creatures with bodies like cardboard cut-outs. Necks fixed, their entire torso appears to move in one solid unit. As a moan and groan about their back pain, they look old-before-their-time, rigid and uncomfortable. If only they took time to stretch…
Stretching your spine can help fix many nasty symptoms you may be feeling in your body and gives so many benefits. It prevents injury, delays the structural ageing process and keeps you feeling relaxed and pain-free. Stretching also enhances circulation and frankly – you’ll look a lot better. Stretch often and you will improve your posture. You stand taller, your chest will be open, neck relaxed and you can breathe! With good posture comes confidence and poise.
Here are six important stretches your spine will love.
The roll down
Stand upright, feet hip-width apart, head looking forward. With arms relaxed and knees slightly unlocked, slowly tilt your head forward and start to roll slowly down through your spine, one vertebra at a time. Let your arms hang. When you have flexed (rolled forward) as far as you are comfortable with, take a deep breath, and then roll back up through the vertebrae one at a time. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
The following exercises can be held for approximately 20 seconds, and repeated on each side up to 3 times.
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place your right ankle on your left bent knee. Pull the left thigh towards you, feeling the stretch in the right glute. Reverse and repeat.
Note that your piriformis is a small muscle located deep in the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. This muscle assists in hip rotation and turning the leg and foot outward. Stretching the piriformis is important as it can compress the sciatic nerve, leading to sciatic pain down the leg.
Starting from the completed position in the gluteal stretch above (ankle over opposite knee), instead of pulling the thigh towards you, push the knee closest to you away from you, intensifying the stretch in your piriformis.
Lying hamstring stretch
Lying supine (on your back) with knees bent, lift your right leg up to the ceiling and attempt to straighten your right knee, feeling a stretch through your right hamstrings. To increase the stretch, use a towel to hook your foot and pull the towel towards you while keeping the knee straightened. You may want to stay a little longer in this stretch, concentrating on different muscle groups. Experiment by bending or straightening the leg, pulling the leg diagonally across the body to stretch the ITB (iliotibial band), or opening the leg and away from you, to stretch the adductors.
Sitting side stretch
Sitting upright on the floor, with your left knee bent, stretch the right leg out to the side. Lift your left arm up to the ceiling and slowly stretch your body to the right. Place your right elbow in front of your right knee and keeping it facing the front, relax your torso as much as possible and gently let the weight of your body ease down over your right leg. You may also like to let your body rotate forward towards the right knee so that your chest is facing the ground, further stretching your QL (quadratus lumborum), as well as muscles of the mid back.
Rotational stretch (side-to-side)
Lying on your back with your arms out to a “T” position, bend your knees up in the air so that they are at approximately 90°. In a slow, relaxed movement, gently let both your knees drop over to the right side of your body. Once they have moved to the side as far as is comfortable, relax and breathe into the stretch, feeling your QL, obliques, and pectoral muscles stretch out.
Ideally, try to keep your shoulders on the ground. However, if this is too intense, relax and let your shoulder lift off the floor a little. If the stretch is still too much, you may wish to bend only one leg over to the side, e.g. taking your left knee over to the right-hand side of the body. Reverse and repeat.
Sage Institute of Fitness – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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