Your Daily Stretches

Stretching Method

Here is a simple protocol to use for static stretching. 

Use a tension scale of 1 -10 to gauge how the stretch feels.  1 being a minimal stretch and 10 being a maximal stretch.

The following protocol is known as Development stretches.

Maintenance stretches are simply held for 10 seconds or so (more on this in the stretching protocols below).

1: Take the stretch until you reach the first point of tension

2: This should be about a 5 to 6 initially

3: Hold the stretch until it releases to a 2 – 3

4: Then repeat the process as many times as required or for how much time you have

5: Sometimes a stretch will release instantly! Other times it might take 30 seconds, several minutes or continuous work over several days.

How Often Should I Stretch?

There isn’t a perfect one-size-fits-all approach to stretching. It depends on various things such as our jobs, lifestyle, skeletal structure, and age. However, given how the modern world has become dominated by laptops and mobile phones most people should aim to stretch daily, at least for a few minutes a day.

Changes in posture and restrictions in joint and muscle movement are two of the biggest contributors to musculoskeletal problems and pain, with many of the problems people experience due to a result of their working environment where they sit in comprised postural positions for long periods of the day.

So, in this guide, we’ve put together a handful of really simple stretches that you can do throughout your day.

Stretching Protocols

What is the best way to stretch?

There are lots of stretching methods and the research is still quite varied as to which is best. However, I very much doubt that there is a “perfect” way to stretch and it certainly shouldn’t be complicated. The bottom line is simple, if you sit all day then stretch regularly, and providing it “feels” like it’s releasing and not causing you pain then you are on the right track!

Think about:

1: When you can, stretch the body as one i.e. stretch / mobilise several areas of the body in one movement. The Hip Flexor with Side Stretch in this programme is just one example.

2: However you can, and should when needed, target specific “tight” / restricted areas of the body with individual stretches.

As you start stretching and mobilising regularly you will begin to notice certain areas of your body will feel stiffer than others. You can then start to focus on these particular areas with specific stretches.

However, don’t over analyse things too much at the beginning.  You sit at a desk all day or you are on your laptop or phone all day, right?! So, the majority of us are going to be stiff and restricted, me included!

EVERYTHING can become stiff from your neck to your feet, so aim to gently mobilise and stretch the entire body every day.  Key point: if one body part is stiff / restricted it can affect movement ANYWHERE in the body, therefore, just a few minutes of stretching or mobilisation can make a big difference.

What are static stretches and what are mobilisations?

Static Stretches are your traditional “stretch and hold” stretches. We have termed them Maintenance Stretches or Developmental Stretches based on the length of time you hold the stretch.

Mobilisations are based on controlled movements to release joint and muscle restrictions. An example is the Scapula Mobilisations in the videos below. Here, the goal is regaining or improving movement in your Scapulae (shoulder blades) as opposed to stretching a specific muscle.

Both techniques are really effective. And initially, for the majority of us, there wouldn’t be a particular need to prioritise one over the other as both should be performed regularly.

Maintenance v Developmental Stretches

Maintenance Static Stretches:

  • 10 – 15 Seconds in length.
  • Repeat 1 – 2 times.
  • RPE anything up to 7 for beginners.
  • 1 x 10 second stretch should be the minimum you aim for daily.
  • Maintenance stretches are exactly that – they will help maintain what you have, great to do when you are busy and don’t have much time.

Development Static Stretches:

  • 30 – 60 seconds or longer in length.
  • Repeat 1, 2, 3 times.
  • Development stretches help increase the range of motion you currently have.

For either method of stretching use a tension scale of 1 -10 to gauge how the stretch feels. 1 being a minimal stretch and 10 being a maximal stretch.

  • Take the stretch until you reach the first point of tension.
  • This should be about a 5-7 initially.
  • Hold the stretch until it releases to a 2 – 3.
  • Repeat the process as many times as required or for how much time you have.
  • Sometimes a stretch will release instantly! Other times it might take 30 seconds, several minutes, or even several days to release!

Yoga videos talk about alignment when stretching, is that really important?

I’ve had discussions with a physiotherapy friend of mine over this topic several times and we are both of the agreement that you don’t have to analyse every position of your stretch or be in the “perfect” yoga position to achieve the desired stretch.

If you feel the need to stretch, the stretch you do feels good, and it feels like it’s releasing the area that’s stiff then it’s working – yes it really is that simple for the majority of us!

Of course, if you go to Instagram there are some incredible yoga practitioners performing very advanced stretches. But, do you need that kind of flexibility, are you going to structurally be able to reach that level, and is it safe and time-worthy for all of us to strive towards these levels of flexibility – just some of the questions you might ask yourself!

Key Point: A restriction in range of motion in ANY joint or muscle can create a “knock-on” effect around the ENTIRE body.

Start standing and finish on the floor

Perform this stretch gently as the neck is a sensitive area. If you currently suffer from neck pain perform without the “hand pull” of the head.

  • Stretch your neck daily
  • There are 2 forms of this stretch – do both!
  • Place your hand under a table to create traction to increase the stretch (chair used for demonstration purposes)
  • Stand a few inches away from the table, adjust foot position to find the most effective stretch position
  • Place your hand closest to the table under the table, keep your arm straight
  • Stretch your neck by dropping your ear furthest from the table towards your shoulder on the same side or taking your chin down to the opposite side of your chest / armpit – this will create a stretch through the back of your neck
  • Now, take your other hand and gently pull your head further towards your shoulder or chest / armpit to increase the stretch
  • Hold each stretch for 10 – 60 seconds or as required
  • Repeat 1 – 3 times each side

Pec and Lat Stretch

Pecs are your Pectoral Muscle (chest muscle) and Lat is your Latissimus Dorsi (a large back muscle running from the top of your pelvis, up the middle and side of your back attaching on the front of your arm). Both areas can easily become stiff from our daily seated posture.

Pec Stretch: (this stretch is great for “opening up” the front of your shoulders and chest – laptop / computer muscles!)

We’ve used a chair for demonstration purposes but to create the required traction this stretch works far better with your hands on a table or both hands in the kitchen sink!

  • Bend over facing your table or sink
  • Stand far enough away from your table for your arms to be straight
  • Imagine pushing your hands down into the table or sink
  • Push your bum away from you to lengthen the stretch through the side of your back and front of your shoulders
  • Aim to push your mid-back or chest down towards the floor – this will really help mobilise your mid-back!

(Hamstrings are the back of your upper leg)

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder or hip-width apart
  • Bend over and place your fingers under your toes or behind your calves as a modified position, bend your knees as you don’t want “locked” knees – bent knees may allow you to reach under your toes
  • In fact, if you can reach under your toes with your legs relatively straight then your hamstring and lower back are potentially mobile enough!
  • With your knees bent, push your bum backward and upward and try to straighten (momentarily) your knees and then release
  • Each movement should last about 1 – 2 seconds
  • Repeat 10 times, then finish with a 10-second hold in a position which is “your stretch” position
  • This might be one at a leg time
  • You should “feel” this in your hamstrings (back of your legs), lower back, and possibly your calves
Hamstring Stretch with Trunk Rotation
  • From the position above keep your knees bent (about a 1/4 squat) but so you can still feel a gentle stretch on the hamstrings and your lower back
  • Place one hand inside the leg on the same side of your body. Your hand should be somewhere close to your ankle, if not bend your knees further to find the right position for you
  • Take your free arm and turn your mid-back and that arm and look up to the ceiling, or as far round as you can
  • Use your hand that is inside your leg as leverage to push against that leg so you can rotate your back further
  • Switch sides and keep alternating sides
  • Repeat 5 – 10 times each side
  • Perform at a nice controlled speed
  • Finish with a 10-second hold on each side

Hip flexors can become classically “tight” and restricted from being seated for long periods. They attach from your lower spine, cross the hip, and insert on the inside of your upper thigh.

In this stretch you are initially focusing on stretching the hip flexor, you can then add in the side reach to stretch the torso.

  • Start on one knee
  • The leg on the floor will be the focus of the stretch
  • Your foot on your other leg should be placed on the floor out in front of you at about a right angle (this is not the side being stretched)
  • Imagine pushing your hip up toward the ceiling, this should activate a stretch in the front of the hip and leg
  • At this point, you can also raise the arm on the same side and reach over towards the opposite side, this will increase the stretch through your torso
  • Hold each stretch for 10 – 60 seconds or as required
  • Repeat 1 – 3 times each side

(shoulder blade and back mobilisation)

  • Move down to the floor now so you are on all fours
  • Keeping your arms straight push your chest down towards the floor as far as you can
  • Your lower back should be arched
  • From there, pull your mid-back / Scapulae up as high as you can so your back is now rounded (also called cat stretch)
  • Each downward and upward movement should take about 2 seconds
  • Perform 10 – 15 in total, up and down counted as one
  • There is no need to hold at the end

Key Point

Keep arms straight (or as close to straight as you can) and really try to mobilise your back “both ways”.

The Cobra is good for stretching your abdominals and mobilising your back.

The Child Pose is good for stretching your Lats (back muscles) and feet and ankles.

Move between both poses:

  • Start lying flat on the floor, bend your elbows so you are resting on your forearms, and then push up into a Cobra position and hold for 10 – 60 seconds.
  • Now, walk your hands back so you are sitting on your feet. Depending on how flexible your feet and ankles are, you may need to have your hands on the floor next to your knees to support your weight and take the pressure off your feet during the stretch.
  • However, if you are able to sit back on your feet, you can reach your hands out in front of you straight on the floor to stretch your Lats (outside of your back)
  • Hold for 10 – 60 seconds
  • Move back on to your hands and into the Cobra stretch again and then continue alternating

During the Child Pose:

  • Some of you may not be able to sit back fully on your feet due to stiffness in your ankles. If so, place your hands on the floor to support your weight to find the right position
  • These methods will enable you to find the best position for you.
  • You may experience cramping in the arch of your foot!

FAQ’s

Should I stretch every day?

Given our working environments, then yes, most of us should probably be doing something every day. You don’t have to drag yourself to a yoga class, it can be as simple as stretching your neck for a minute or two throughout the day. Every little bit helps, and as importantly it helps build, and reinforce good habits.

Regular stretching really is preventative, but often we ignore the warning signs such as mild stiffness and pain and then end up at the GP’s or on the Osteopath’s couch for a course of treatments as muscle stiffness and joint restriction gradually increases.

How do I stretch an injured body part?

Always follow instructions given to you by your GP, Physiotherapist, Chiropractor, or Osteopath. Stretching should be avoided in the acute phase of injury i.e. after a fall, muscle tear, or ligament sprain as you will cause further damage to the injured area.

However, an example of where stretching may be helpful in the acute phase is if you experience a neck or back spasm. These can sometimes be incredibly painful and can occur from an everyday movement i.e. bending down to pick up a pen off the floor. Spasms are muscle contractions so the muscle does indeed need releasing, during these episodes and if possible (pain dependent) keep as mobile and active as you can and gently stretch the area in question if pain permitted.

If the injury is chronic i.e. several months or years old then some light, gentle stretching, and mobilisation should help. Chronic injuries usually cause restriction and stiffness over time worsening the problem and potentially causing secondary problems. However, if stretching makes the problem worse, STOP and seek professional advice.

Can I still stretch if I have pain in my neck, back or shoulder?

Pain doesn’t necessarily mean the area shouldn’t be stretched or exercised. However, if there has been an acute injury, see the previous question, then no you shouldn’t stretch.

The neck is a common area where people experience pain frequently. There could be many reasons for pain so always ensure you speak to your GP or medical professional such as a Physiotherapist. But, neck pain can often occur from muscle tension that builds up from day upon day of sitting at your desk. If this is the case, and there hasn’t been any trauma or obvious injury, then stretching should help.

Any trauma, whiplash, or accident should always be assessed by a medical professional. In these circumstances do NOT start stretching unless instructed to by a medical professional.

So, firstly, consider whether there has been any form of recent injury. If there hasn’t and you think your pain relates to postural issues then yes stretching is usually the right thing to do. For example, you come home from work where you have been sitting all day, and your lower back feels stiff and sore, then yes performing something like the Hamstring Pulses stretch below may help in stretching your lower back.

Should I use hot or cold therapies?

This programme is really about stretching for those of you chained to your desk all day.

Pain is a sign of inflammation.  Ice (when mentioning ice here, cold therapy is the same thing) helps reduce inflammation whereas heat can add to the inflammation. Therefore, ice should be applied to an acute injury or if you have pain – you should never heat an acute injury.

During an acute injury, there will be an inflammatory response, heat is generated as part of that inflammatory response. Therefore, adding more heat will worsening the problem over the next 24 – 48 hours, so use ice to calm down the reaction.

However, even if there hasn’t been an “injury” but your neck / shoulder/ back feel painful AND stiff from laptop overuse (classic example!) then follow the ice protocol first until the pain goes, also GENTLY stretch during this period to help release muscle tension / stiffness.  Once the pain goes, switch to heat and continue stretching.

The above can be a classic “build up” issue and often pain occurs when turning the neck or moving the shoulder or back – usually, there hasn’t been any particular trauma.  However, inflammation will likely be present, so use this ice protocol.

  • Ice every 1-2 hours for 15 – 20 minutes.
  • Repeat daily or as often as needed until the pain goes.
  • This may take several days.

Heat is great for muscles and joints that feel stiff and or achy. Here apply heat to warm up the area and also gently stretch. Generally, heat is used for chronic issues to increase mobility.

Muscles particularly like heat. For example, when you exercise heat is generated and with that warmth you feel more mobile and flexible.

But, always reduce the pain first with ice before switching to heat to increase blood flow and help mobilisation.

Can I injury myself stretching?

Yes, you can “over-do” stretching and leave muscles and tendons sore. This can particularly occur if you are new to stretching, trying to stretch / mobilse an area that has been restricted, sore, or injured for a while or you “push” too deeply with a stretch in the early stages of stretching.

A Few Extra Stretching Tips!

You are NOT a 12-year old Gymnast! You probably knew that anyway! So, stretching should be an enjoyable, relaxing experience.

Your goal is to gently release tension so there is no need to force yourself deeper and deeper into your stretches if your body is resisting – work with your body not against it.

Stretch / Mobilise for 5 – 15 Minutes for every 30 Minutes you have been Sitting.

 This is also a nice physical and mental break from work.