10 Easy Ways to Work Stretching Into Your Daily Routine


I'm a certified, registered yoga teacher at the 500-hour level, and I've been teaching yoga and meditation for 10 years. Take it from me: Flexibility is an important aspect of everyone's health.

In fact, most of my students find me because they have low levels of flexibility that are causing them pain. Muscles that are flexible help to reduce pain in the body, particularly back pain, and they support us in the movement of everyday life.

But building and maintaining flexibility takes continuous effort over a long period of time. If we try to build flexibility too quickly, we're very likely to get an injury. I use the plastic wrap analogy with my students to explain this concept. Stretch a piece of plastic wrap between your hands. If you stretch it quickly, the plastic wrap breaks. If you stretch it very slowly, it lengthens. Our muscles have a similar quality. They must be stretched little by little over a long period of time in order to lengthen. (See also: 10 Exercises You Can Do at Work That Won't Make You Look Silly)

All of that means stretching ought to be done in small increments each day. Here are 10 ways I work on my flexibility daily without changing my normal routine.

1. Good Morning

Before I even get out of bed, I spend a minute or two stretching. You can do this lying down or sitting up. I turn my neck from side to side, stretch my arms out and up over my head, and then pull my knees into my chest to take my legs to each side. It gives me a way to know what areas of my body need a bit of extra attention for the day.

2. Before and After Exercise

I've seen a number of different opinions on whether it's more beneficial to stretch before or after exercise. I spend a few minutes doing both because that's what feels best to me. Stretching before I exercise let's me know which parts of my body feel stiff. Those are areas where I need to pay the most attention and care when I work out. I stretch after as well because I'm warmed up and am able to feel the full flexibility benefits of the workout. Again, that's another opportunity for me to check in to see if the areas that felt stiff prior to working out still feel that way. If they do, then I know it's something I may be need to get checked to see if there's any kind of injury.

3. Shower Time

After exercise, I start my day with a warm shower. This is another excellent time to stretch a bit because the warmth from the water helps soothe achy muscles. I take my torso from side to side and focus on my neck, shoulders, and low back.

4. Desk Time

I love my work as a writer, so I'm prone to sit at my desk and move very little throughout the day if left to my own devices. To combat this, I have a timer set for every hour. When that timer goes off, I get up from my chair, take a spin around my home office, and do some stretches for my whole body, paying special attention to my neck, shoulders, back, and hips because those are the areas that get most stiff when I sit for long periods of time.

Even while I'm sitting, I squeeze in some seated stretches. I twist from side to side to relieve my back and do a gentle forward fold while seated, letting my torso rest on my thighs. I find they're especially helpful when I'm searching for the right words to string together. Try some of these seated stretches from the Mayo Clinic that can easily be done in the office.

5. During Phone Conversations

I always stretch when I'm on the phone. Depending upon how my body feels, I sometimes do those stretches standing up or sitting down. I use that time to catch up with friends, family, or colleagues while working on my flexibility.

6. In the Kitchen

Because I work from home, I prepare most of my own meals in my kitchen. The time I spend standing at my kitchen counter preparing food is another great time to get in a bit of stretching. While at my counters, I use a wide-legged stance that provides a great stretch for my thighs and hips. These muscles get especially tight because I sit for most of my day. I use good posture when bending down to get items from my cabinets below the counter. I also try to use the step stool only when I really need it, stretching for items on shelves that are a bit out of my reach.

7. Social Stretch

In New York City, where I live, socializing often involves heading to a restaurant, cafe, or local bar to catch up with friends. Lately I've been trying to to have more active friend time. I live close to two large parks, so I suggest a walk together, or if I know a friend of mine is into specific kinds of exercise, I suggest going to a class together at the gym. This way I get in my social, exercise, and flexibility training all in one shot.

8. Television Watching

I love television. For many people, TV time is down time. It's also a fantastic opportunity to stretch and work on your flexibility. Stretching is passive and doesn't require our full attention so we can watch the news or our favorite shows while doing both seated and standing stretches.

9. Podcast and Audiobook Listening

I'm a big fan of podcasts and audiobooks. I load them up on one of my mobile devices and hit the streets for a walk or play them while I stretch out in my living room. There's an added benefit of doing exercise while listening: I actually retain the information more efficiently than if I'm sitting on the subway or bus listening to the content, so stretching while listening boosts my brain as it improves my flexibility. A recent study at the University of British Columbia showed that exercise improves memory and thinking.

10. Good Night

I use stretching to bookend my days. Just as I spend a minute to two in bed stretching after I wake up, I also spend another minute or two before I go to sleep. I have one last opportunity for the day to see if any parts of my body feel stiff and that stretching helps me to get comfortable for a good night's sleep.

Add up all of these bits of stretching and I get in at least 15 minutes of time to improve my flexibility every day. A great deal of it is acquired while I multitask because stretching is an activity that doesn't require my undivided attention. Consciously work stretching in bit by bit throughout your day as part of your normal routine and you'll see your flexibility grow at just the right pace without adding another item to your to-do list.

How do you get your stretching in every day?

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