An article by exercise physiologist, Jennifer Smallridge
As an exercise physiologist, something I hear frequently is “oh no, I’m not flexible at all! I could never do the splits!”. But what if we thought about functional flexibility instead? Rather than being able to do the splits, which lets be honest - rarely is required in day-to-day life, flexibility can really be about having the appropriate range of movement at each joint to do what you love. This could mean getting your arm in your jacket with ease, putting on your shoes, picking up the grandchildren, or being able to take nice long strides when you go walk up a hill.
Framing flexibility like this is more attainable and can prevent the muscles and joints from injury and pain. So now that we all agree we can all be flexible people, where should we begin? Our muscles aren’t exactly like rubber bands that stretch and stretch and snap right back - they are more like pizza dough which starts small and when warmed up and gently stretched, can take on a new shape. If we leave that pizza dough to rest for too long, it will shrink back to its original shape. The best part about this, is that every day, we can do small things that help our flexibility rather than one massive yoga session, feeling sore, and then never going back again.
Flexibility also comes with its own benefits: improved posture, increased circulation, decreased joint and muscle pain, and most importantly, living with ease. The following stretches and movements have been designed to start your day: from bed, to the floor, to the doorway. Of course, if you have a specific injury or ailment, please always consult your healthcare professional to modify. Otherwise, happy stretching!
1. Back rotations
Start your day with a twist! Whilst lying in bed, bend your knees with your feet still on the mattress. Take your arms out to a T shape and let your knees drop from side to side, like the windscreen wipers of a car. You can choose whether this feels good with your feet and knees together, or hip distance apart. Repeat for 10 rotations.
2. Calf stretch
Once you are up and out of bed, find a wall or a bed frame to hold on to. Place one foot forwards and the other foot backwards, the length of your regular “step”. Bend your front knee and try to keep your back heel down on the ground. This will stretch your gastrocnemius - the calf muscle, which is important for walking, and prone to cramping! Hold for 30 seconds, and then change sides.
3. Toe touches
I have had some very nimble clients tell me that this is their secret weapon! For safety, stand with a wall behind you, with your feet and body about 30cm away from it. Nod your chin down towards your chest and let your hands slide down your legs until you feel a gentle stretch in your hamstrings and/or lower back. The wall is there if you need to rest your buttocks on it. Once you feel a slight stretch, roll back up through your spine and stand up tall. Repeat 5 times. Please do not continue this stretch if you feel uncomfortable or dizzy.
4. Chest stretch
Now to head out the door - but before you do, place one arm on either side of the door frame in an ‘L’ shape (bent elbow). Gently step your body through and feel a stretch across the front of the shoulders and chest muscles. Once your stretch is at around 50% of its maximum, hold for 30 seconds, ensuring that you continue to breathe. This one is great for improving posture, particularly if you spend a lot of time on computers, tablets or smartphones.