by KAITLYN MCLINTOCK
August 5, 2021
If you wake up the way I once did, then your morning goes something like this: You roll out of bed after hitting snooze one too many times, yawn, wipe the sleep from your eyes, hit the brew button on the coffeepot, and start getting ready for work. I've always been one of those night owls who have trouble waking up early to do anything productive. In fact, if it were up to me, I'd be scrolling aimlessly through Instagram under my blankets instead of jump-starting my day.
Of course, said aimless scrolling results in tiredness and a general feeling of unpreparedness come work time, which is why, long ago, I resolved to switch up my morning routine (or lack thereof). I wanted to wake up early enough to establish some semblance of a wellness routine, one that would include journaling, reading, and, yes, stretching. Take it from Dana VanPamelen, co-founder of Hit House in New York City. "Instead of hitting snooze," she says, "take those extra morning moments to move gently through a stretching sequence.
Even 10 minutes before your cup of coffee can help get you into a positive morning mindset and routine."
Here's the thing, though. I didn't want to do just any stretches. I wanted an expert-recommended routine so I could feel like I was accomplishing something—not just sleepily fumbling around on a yoga mat at 7 a.m. Luckily, a few wellness experts were kind enough to share some advice on the many benefits of a morning stretch.
"Just as our bodies need sleep to recover from the day, heal our muscles, and decompress, we also need movement in the morning to help release the connective tissues that have been accumulating between our muscle when they're at rest," explains Rausch. This means we literally have to "recover" from our rest period.
"It's just as critical to counteract the effects of our six to eight hours of stillness (if we're lucky) as it is to get rest. Moving in the morning reduces stiffness, alleviates common aches and pains, and loosens chronically tight muscles. By adding stretching into our morning routine, we are waking up the body by boosting circulation, increasing energy, and decreasing pain," Rausch adds.
Bullock agrees. "Stretching in the morning helps to get your blood and oxygenation to your body flowing, waking up the entire body gently. There are benefits to stretching the relaxed muscles after the state of sleep and relieving any tension from the manner you slept. It's also a great routine to align proper posture for the day ahead," she says.
Armed with the advice of three trusted fitness experts, including Openfit trainer, Julian Daigre, I'm raising my bedroom curtains and letting you in on the 11 best morning stretches to start your day off right.
According to Rausch, this classic stretch is a great one to start with. "Some consider this to be one of the most therapeutic stretches around because of its gentle way to stabilize the pelvis and low back," she says. "This movement also safely stretches the lower back and helps reduce lower-back pain. Drawing the knees into the chest encourages blood flow to the vital organs, reduces bloating, and stimulates digestion." (These types of horizontal stretches are great for those of us who are naturally inclined to want to lie down as long as possible each morning. The first four here grant us this luxury.)
Lie on your back, and gently draw your knees to your chest.
Hold for 15–30 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.
Supine Twist Stretch
“When you're short on time, it is key to do movements that target multiple parts of the body and offer several benefits," Rausch says. The supine twist "targets your back, hips, and glutes in one fell swoop. This is also a lovely stretch to help open the chest, restore the spine's natural range of motion, and lengthen the waist. Additionally, twists help massage the organs, release toxins, and strengthen the abdominal muscles."
Lie on your back, and turn your pelvis so that one leg falls over the other.
Turn your head in the same direction as your top leg.
Repeat on the opposite side.
Supine Butterfly Stretch
"I love this stretch because it just feels very open. When we are open, we are more willing to give and receive," says Rausch. "Starting the day in this position not only helps create more space in the groin, knees, and hips but also can help create space in the heart. Not to mention, this pose has been known to relieve fatigue and increase overall energy levels."
Lie on your back, and draw your feet up toward your pelvic area.
Bring the soles of your feet together, allowing your legs to fall open with your knees going out to each side.
Hold 15–30 seconds, and then release.
If you sit at your desk most of the day, the glute bridge stretch should become your new best friend. It not only opens up the hips and stretches the hip flexors, but it may also help strengthen the glutes and hamstrings.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart with the soles flat on the floor.
Straighten your arms, palms down, along your torso toward your feet.
Lift your hips up by pressing through your feet and squeezing your glutes.
Take a few deep breaths, then slowly lower your hips back to the starting position.
Kneel down with your knees hip-width apart and your feet coming together behind you.
Exhale while lowering your torso to rest on your thighs as you sit your butt back toward your feet.
Straighten your arms past your head and reach forward, palms down, as far as you can, concentrating on extending your spine.
VanPamelen recommends a simple neck stretch "to release any tension that happened while sleeping (we all find funky sleeping positions sometimes)." Just be gentle because most of us are usually quite stiff in the morning, and you don't want to cause injury.
Slowly and gently bring your left ear down toward your left shoulder.
Use your left hand to gently pull the right side of your head toward your left shoulder to bring the left ear and shoulder closer together.
Hold for 15 seconds, breathing deeply and slowly.
Repeat on the other side, using your right arm.
The cat-cow is another great stretch for the spine, hips, neck, and core musculature. Wondering where it got its name? It has you dynamically alternating between two postures, each reminiscent of one of the animals. As someone who regularly watches cat videos and sends my friends cat memes, you can bet I was on board with this one. The fact that it feels great also makes it an easy sell (even for dog lovers!).
Kneel on all fours so that your hands are on the ground under your shoulders and your knees are on the ground under your hips.
Start with a flat back and neutral spine.
Engage your abdominals as you inhale deeply.
Exhale while drawing your navel toward your spine and rounding your spine up toward the ceiling.
Bring your chin gently to your chest.
Inhale while arching your back and lifting your head and tailbone toward the ceiling.
Repeat up to 10 times.
Seated Oblique Stretch
This stretch elongates your spine and targets your rib cage and obliques, according to VanPamelen.
Lace your fingers together (with your palms facing upward), and raise your arms up above your head to elongate your spine.
Slowly lean to one side, and hold for a few breaths.
Repeat, leaning to the other side.
Side Quad Stretch
"We use our quads all day, so stretching them in the morning can be super helpful," says VanPamelen. Although the quad is typically a muscle we stretch while standing, she says it's just as effective to stretch it while lying down.
Lie on one side, with your bottom arm straight underneath your head.
Bend your top leg, but keep your bottom leg straight and align your knees.
Activate your glutes as you gently pull your top foot closer to your butt using your top arm. Your knees should stay together.
Hold for at least 15 seconds, release, then roll over to switch sides.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
This yoga pose is a great way to get grounded in the morning and stand tall with ideal posture. You'll open your chest, stretch your hamstrings, and elongate your spine.
Stand with the bases of your big toes together and your heels slightly apart.
Rock onto your heels so that you can lift your toes and the balls of your feet.
Fully spread and fan out your toes as they are elevated, and then lay them comfortably spaced back on the floor.
Make sure your weight is well-balanced between your two feet.
Contract your quads to lift your kneecaps, and allow your inner thighs to rotate slightly inward.
Contract your pelvic floor muscles and abdominals so that your body is nice and tall.
Take a deep breath, broadening your collarbones and drawing your shoulder blades back.
Relax your face, and imagine the crown of your head reaching up high to the sky as you elongate your spine.
Forward Fold Stretch
What better way to end a morning stretch sequence than with a classic forward fold? Yogis know this stretch doubles as a place of rest and reflection, which makes it perfect for setting your daily intentions. "A forward fold is a great, easy way to stretch your hamstrings and release your lower back," VanPamelen says.
Stand with your knees slightly bent and your feet hip-width apart.
Hinge at your hips so that your upper body hangs down over your legs.
Place your hands where they comfortably land (floor, legs, or ankles).
Hold while taking deep breaths, gently swaying back and forth from one side to the other, and nodding your head "yes" and shaking your head "no."
To return to standing, draw your navel toward your spine, and slowly roll up one vertebra at a time.
After these stretches, you'll feel so much better about your day—take it from me. Not to be a broken record, but do go slow. There's no surer way to start your day off on the wrong foot than by straining a muscle first thing in the morning. Rausch reminds us to listen to our bodies and learn our limits.
"Always use the breath. It's a powerful tool to help relieve muscle tension, reduce pain, and will allow you to surrender and safely move deeper into the stretch," she says. "Diaphragmatic breathing (aka focused belly breathing) is an approachable practice for anyone and a great way to learn how to breathe more fully and consciously. As you are in your stretch, simply focus the attention on expanding the belly on your inhale and gently contracting the belly on your exhale."
And if you happened to hit the snooze button a few too many times and don't have time for all 11 stretches, that's OK too. "Performing even one stretch a morning is beneficial to you physically and mentally," Bullock says. "However, I recommend at least five stretches, either focused on a tight area or one for each major area of the body: hips, lower back, spine, chest, neck." On days I've lingered in bed too long to fit in the full routine and still get to my desk on time, I make sure to get in child's pose, cat-cow, and the forward fold.
Finally, don't rush through the pose, no matter how tired or pressed for time you may feel. "Hold the pose! So many of us do not give enough time for the body to respond to the stretch. Just like life, we tend to be in the 'on to the next' mindset," says Rausch. "Give your body the time to respond to the movement, and while you're there, give yourself the opportunity to connect."