Why stretching is important
There are many factors that go into improved physical performance, recovery being one, stretching another. A good night’s sleep is vital in allowing the body to rest, relax and rebuild, stretching in order to improve flexibility, range of motion and injury prevention.
Incorporating stretching into your daily workouts is a given but including it in your daily routine just before sleep is a very effective way to relax your muscles and increase blood flow and nutrients to your cartilage and muscles.
Knowing where to start with stretching can be a daunting prospect for many, so here are four of Kassandra’s top stretches to do before bed to wind down for an improved, productive night’s sleep:
Doorway Chest Stretch
The chest muscles can become tight from sitting at a desk for prolonged periods of time, causing the shoulders to roll forward and muscles of the upper back to become stretched and weakened. This stretch targets those muscles of the chest – the pectoralis major and pectoralis minor.
- Stand against a doorway and position your elbow against it
- Step forward into the doorway with the opposite foot
- Adjust your elbow position to target the different fibres of the pec muscles
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds each time and repeat on both sides in an identicle manner
Hamstring strains are a common training and sport injury, with research showing that shortened muscle length is one of the common risk factors.
Tight hamstrings can limit your ability to use your gluteal muscles and both groups of muscles are key in “hip extension”, which in turn is an important action in walking, running, squating and basically any lower body movement. If the gluteal muscles aren’t working well, the hamstrings will have to work twice as hard to do the same job, so its an important area to focus on.
- Stand with your feet in a staggered stance
- With a slight bend in your front leg, sit your hips backwards, maintaining a neutral spine position. You will feel the stretch through the back of the thigh in your front leg
- Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat twice on each leg
The cat-cow position helps to improve mobility throughout your spine and teaches you to differentiate between various movements in these segments. This stretch can help with lower back pain and the synchronised breathing assists with relaxation.
- Kneel on all fours with your knees directly under your hips and your wrists directly under your shoulders
- As you exhale, use your abdominal muscles to scoop your stomach away from the floor and curve your back towards the ceiling. Allow your shoulders to round forward and your head to fall towards your chest. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds
- Reverse this movement as you inhale and allow your stomach to fall towards the floor (creating an arch through your lower back). Bring your shoulder blades down and squeeze together as you look up towards the ceiling. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds
- Repeat the cat-cow movements for 5-10 repetitions
Side-Lying Bretzel Stretch
The bretzel stretch is great for improving your upper back (thoracic spine) and hip mobility, both areas of your body which can become stiff from prolonged sitting as well as regular use in physical activity and exercises.
- Lie on your right side with a pillow or towel to support your neck. Your left knee should be bent across your body and the right leg straight
- Using your right hand to hold the left knee in position, exhale as you rotate your upper body to your left towards the floor
- Inhale as you return to the starting position and repeat for 3-5 breaths. Repeat with the other leg.
- To target the quadriceps and hip flexors as you rotate, bend your right knee and use your left hand to pull your leg as close to your hips as possible.
Try to to build these stretches into your nightly routine, not long before bed and I’m sure that you’ll start to move better, perform better and sleep better.
About the Author
Kassandra is an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Precision Physio, Concord. She has a Bachelor of Applied Science (Exercise Physiology) from the University of Sydney and competes as an Under 63kg Powerlifter.
In high-performance settings, Exercise Physiologists provide a vital link between the work done by both physiotherapists and conditioning coaches, bringing together a detailed understanding of how the body moves and what is required to train and develop towards specific physical goals.
Kassandra is a highly regarded practitioner currently working with a mix of talented athletes and active everyday people looking to move more efficiently or with reduced pain. She has a particular focus on musculoskeletal conditions and through experience and her own training, can easily relate with patients and athletes no matter their goals, strengths or limitations.