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Let’s face it, getting motivated in the morning isn’t always easy. A cup of coffee and a few feel-good stretches can help. “Muscles stiffen overnight from lack of movement,” says Leslie Wakefield, D.P.T., doctor of physical therapy with Clear Passage Physical Therapy, Miami, FL. “This results in stiffness of the connective tissue (known as fascia) as well as the muscles.”
Hold each of these stretches for at least two minutes, using only gentle pressure. No warm-up necessary. Mix and match as needed.
For Connective Tissue:
Lie on your back with your arms outstretched, so that your body is the shape of a T. Bend both knees and bring your right ankle on the left knee, creating a triangle shape between your legs. Keeping your shoulders in place, allow your legs to roll to the left while keep that triangle intact. Repeat on the opposite side.
Hip flexor stretch
Scoot to the edge of your bed so that your side lines up with the side of your bed. Let your leg drop off the side and hug the other knee to your chest to support your lower back. You should feel a stretch through the front of your hanging leg’s thigh and hip. Repeat on the opposite side.
Kneel in bed then sit back so that you’re bum is resting on your heels. Gently bend forward until your head touches the mattress. If you need to, fold your arms in front of your face to support your head. Otherwise, reach your arms forward to open connective tissue throughout the shoulders and back.
Triple neck stretch
While still lying in bed, use your right hand to gently pull your head towards your right shoulder. You should feel a stretch in the left side. Now, keeping your head to the side, tuck your chin in. Finally, turn your head up as if to look at the ceiling. Use only gentle pressure.
Wall-push calf stretch
Stand arm's length from the wall, with your hands on the wall. Step one foot forward and one foot back. Straighten the back leg, feeling a stretch from knee to ankle. Hold and then slightly bend your back knee while still keeping your heel on the floor. This will move the stretch lower and access deeper layers of calf muscles.
“This helps loosen tight chest muscles from driving or sitting slouched forward,” says Robin Tacchetti, a physical therapist in Sandy Spring, MD. Stand in a doorway with one arm stretched out at shoulder height, elbow bent at a 45-degree angle so it forms an “L.” Place your elbow and forearm against the door frame and gently lean into it while turning your body away from the arm to increase the stretch. Hold 20-to-30 seconds and repeat with the opposite arm.
Lie on your back with knees bent and feel flat on the floor. Using both hands, pull up one knee towards your chest while keeping the other foot on the floor. Bring the leg back to starting position and repeat with the other leg. Then, bring both knees to your chest at the same time. Hold 20-to-30 seconds.
Hip rotation stretch (lower back)
Lie on your back and lift and bend your right leg to a right angle, thigh perpendicular to the floor, shin parallel to the floor. Now, keeping this same angle, slowly drop the leg over to the left side as you rotate your head in the opposite direction, using your left hand to increase the stretch and bring your right knee closer to the floor. Hold, release and repeat on the other side.
“Tight hamstrings can contribute to low back pain so it is important to keep them stretched as well,” says Tacchetti.
Sit in a chair and extend your right leg out straight, keeping your left leg bent, foot flat on the floor. Wrap a yoga strap or belt around the bottom of your right foot, and hold on to the ends of the strap with both hands. Straighten your back and bend forward at the waist -- pull on the strap to bring your upper body towards your leg. Hold for 20-to-30 seconds and repeat with the left leg.
Standing quadriceps stretch
Stand and touch a wall with your left hand for balance. Grasp the ankle of your left foot with your right hand and gently pull the foot upwards your butt, until you feel a stretch throughout the left thigh. Hold 20-to-30 seconds and repeat with the right leg, using your left hand.
For joints and circulation:
Down-dog with Swan
“This is a combination of two yoga stretches that opens the hamstrings, calves, hip flexors and chest,” says Wakefield.
Start in pushup position, on toes and hands. Lift hips into the air creating a “V” shape with your body. You should feel as if your legs and back are straight and your chest is pressing down towards the floor with a stretch through the hamstrings and calves. Then slowly lower hips towards the floor. At the same time, scoop your chest forward and up, roll back your shoulders and tilt your head back (if comfortable). Repeat five times.
Stand with abs tight. Slowly roll down to touch the floor, bending your knees if necessary. Walk the hands forward into push-up position. Then walk your feet (inch-by-inch) forward to your hands. Slowly roll back up to standing. Repeat five times, keeping your abdominals tight.
Stand tall with good posture, arms straight out to the sides at shoulder level. Twist your upper body from side to side, keeping hips in place. This will work your abdominals while it loosens your lower back, chest and shoulders.
For TMJ and tight shoulders:
Barnes TMJ release
Many people clench or grind their teeth in the night, causing jaw pain and headaches. To release tension in the muscles of the jaw, sit up in bed and you’re your mouth wide. Clasp your face with your hands using gentle pressure (imagine Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone). Allow gravity to gently pull on the weight of your arms, creating a gentle stretch of the skin and muscles of your face. Hold for at least two minutes.
Sit or stand and bring your left arm across your body as you bring your right arm under it, extended forward. “Hook” your left arm into your right elbow by bending your right arm; gently pull your left arm into your chest and hold for 20-to-30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite arm.