Everyone is susceptible to pain or injury as a result of tight, overactive, or shortened muscles. In order to combat this, it is best to incorporate a regular stretching regimen into your weekly routine. While a stretching routine should target the specific muscles that are short or overactive in your body, which is unique for every individual, there are muscles that are commonly impacted for individuals who lead largely sedentary lives and look at a screen for the majority of their day due to the demands of their work. It also important to note that there are two different kinds of stretching techniques.
Types of Stretching
The first kind is called static stretching, where you hold a stretch in the same position without moving for a certain length of time. The second technique is known as dynamic stretching, where you perform movements that effectively lengthen certain muscles or muscle groups for shorter periods of time, which can include certain exercises. Both techniques are effective yet lead to slightly different results. Static stretches, which are usually held for between 15-60 seconds, have been shown to effectively increase muscle length when performed 5 days a week. Longer stretching times are associated with greater increases in muscle length [source]. However, there have been some studies that suggest that static stretching should be avoided prior to engaging in a workout due to decreased strength and power-producing abilities immediately after stretching [source]. Moreover, dynamic stretching has been shown to improve range of motion but is more effective at improving your flexibility during movement [source].
Therefore, both static and dynamic stretching should be incorporated into your weekly routine at different times, and for different purposes. Dynamic stretching is most impactful when done prior to engaging in a workout, while static stretching can either be done after a workout or at another part of your day where you can easily incorporate it into your routine.
I have created a list of the 5 best static stretches and the 5 best dynamic stretches to help you begin your stretching regimen.
Best Static Stretches
Hold each stretch for 30-60s and start by performing 2-3 static stretches each day. Always perform stretches on both sides when applicable. Once stretching becomes ingrained into your daily routine, continue to add in or alternate different stretches each week.
1. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
This stretch targets the muscles on the front of your hip, which are chronically shortened from sitting for prolonged periods of time. Watch the video below to see how to perform the stretch correctly.
The most common mistake when doing this stretch is leaning too far forward so that you’re arching through your low back rather than isolating your hip joint. To avoid this, you want to make sure you’re squeezing your butt muscles and keeping your trunk up tall.
2. Standing Doorway Pec Stretch
Your pectoralis muscles are located at the front of your shoulders, and often get tight from sitting in a slouched posture while looking at a screen. Watch the video below that demonstrates how to perform this stretch.
With this stretch, you want to make sure that you’re feeling the stretch primarily at the front of your shoulder and chest. If you’re feeling it more in the back of your shoulder or another part of your body try sliding your hand upwards or downwards along the door frame or corner until you feel it in the correct place.
3. Downward Dog
This stretch targets most of the muscles along the back side of your body, including your latissimus dorsi (a large muscle on your back that crosses the shoulder joints), hamstrings, and calves. It also promotes spinal extension, which improves posture and combats excessive rounding in the spine caused by habitually poor sitting posture. The video demonstrates the proper way to do a downward dog, and gives you some modifications and regressions to meet your current flexibility needs.
Skip to 0:55, 2:00, and 2:30 to see common mistakes in form.
Skip to 1:30 to see an isolated hamstring and calf stretch.
Skip to 4:22 to see a regression to make the stretch slightly less intense.
4. Levator Scapulae Stretch
The levator scapula is a muscle located on both sides of the back of your neck connecting from the upper part of your spine (called your cervical spine) to the top of your shoulder blades. If you’re sitting in a suboptimal position with your head or neck reaching forward towards your screen all day, this muscle can become overactive and painful. Watch this video to see how to stretch the muscle effectively.
5. Pigeon Stretch
This stretch stretches the muscles on the back of your hip on the leg in the front. This includes your piriformis muscle and your glutes. The piriformis muscle is where your sciatic nerve runs through so any irritations or changes in length of this muscle can lead to sciatica. Watch this video to see how to get into the stretch correctly to ensure you’re targeting the intended muscles.
Best Dynamic Stretches
When engaging in a dynamic stretching warmup, aim for at least 5 minutes of movement to allow for the increased circulation and muscle elasticity to fully benefit your workout. Again, you want to do the same stretches for the same amount of time on both sides to promote muscular balance.
6. Walking Lunge With Twist
This movement effectively stretches the hip flexors (muscles on the front of your hip) of the back leg, the ankle of the front leg, the toes of the back foot, and the trunk. This exercise promotes short bursts of stretching paired with muscle activation to help begin to lengthen and prime your muscles for your workout. Watch the video below that demonstrates how to do this exercise with proper form. This is a perfect exercise to do before any high intensity or high impact workout, or before a lower body workout. Complete 10 lunges on each leg as part of your warm-up routine.
7. Thoracic Extensions
This exercise is paramount for helping to prevent injury caused by poor spinal alignment. It is very common to have excessive rounding in the upper-middle spine (called your thoracic spine) from sitting with poor posture; This exercise aims to correct this by applying a counteractive, corrective force. There are multiple different ways to perform this exercise. The first option is done using a foam roller. Watch this video to learn how to perform it correctly:
The second way to do this exercise is while seated a chair with a lower backrest. View this video to see the correct form:
The third way is to do a kneeling thoracic stretch using your elbows. Watch this video starting at 1:54 for a demonstration using the correct form:
Perform 10 slow repetitions before your workout, especially if you’re going to be engaging in any upper body exercises.
8. Side Lunge Stretch
This exercise allows you to actively length the muscles on the inside of your thighs (called your adductors) as well as your hamstrings. Watch the video below to view how to perform this exercise correctly. Perform 10 slow repetitions on each side, holding for up to 5 seconds on each repetition if you feel any tension.
9. Inchworm to Updog and Down Dog
The inchworm works on warming up the shoulder as well as stretching the back of the hips, hamstrings, and calves. The updog stretches out the whole spine, including the neck, into an extended position. As I mentioned, a lot of us have excessive rounding in our upper-middle back region so positions that stretch us into the opposing direction are beneficial. Then finally, the downward dog stretch is the same as the static stretch, opening up the shoulders, and lengthening the muscles on the back of your legs. Watch the video to see how to perform this stretch. Perform 10 repetitions total before every workout.
10. Low Lunge Thoracic Rotations
This stretch packs a major punch in terms of warming up and stretching out the body. The leg that is stretched out behind you is getting a stretch in the hip flexors, while the front leg is getting a stretch in the glutes and calf muscles. The trunk rotations are effectively helping to wring out the spine and improve rotational mobility. It is very important to make sure your warm-up, stretches, and even your workout includes exercises in multiple planes of motion to ensure optimal muscular balance. Watch the video to see how to perform this stretch. Perform 10 rotations total on each side before every workout.
What Is Foam Rolling And What Is It Good For?
Foam rolling is a type of self-myofascial release. Myofascial release is a treatment approach which works to remove adhesions and improve the mobility between muscles and their surrounding tissue sheath, called fascia. The characteristics of a foam roller allow you to easily place sustained pressure along the full length of a muscle to work through points of tension and pain. While foam rolling has not been shown to improve the length of a muscle like stretching does, it has been shown to improve circulation, help with lymphatic drainage, and reduce muscle soreness as a result of exercise.
There are various different types of foam rollers, which come in various dimensions, have different surface types, and can be equipped with specialty features like a vibration component. The standard foam roller, which is great for general use for different muscle groups is a 36 inch, smooth, foam material roller.
I have put together a list of 5 foam rolling exercises to try out on different muscle groups. Use these exercises if you are feeling any tension, pain, or muscle soreness in any of these areas. Move nice and slow through the movement and make smaller oscillations with the foam roller on any points of tenderness you notice.
Piriformis and Glutes
Latissimus Dorsi and Quadratus Lumborum (Back Muscles)
Static Pec Stretch
I hope this article will help you incorporate a regular stretching regimen into your weekly routine!