If you’re anything like us, this next statement might make you annoyed. Here it goes: Your body needs more movement than workouts to function at its best. We know, we know. I have to add more to my routine that I already don’t have time or motivation for, you ask? Hear us out. Your body is a fine-tuned machine, yes? Yes, and despite what current culture tells you, it’s here to do more than look good, yes? 100 percent yes. So in order to keep your fine-tuned machine working for as long as possible and so that you feel good more often than not, a little maintenance is required — maintenance that’s not a workout. And by that, we mean stretches.
But not just the stretch we all seemed to do in 5th grade — we’re looking at you, basic toe touch. We’re talking about stretches that will actually improve your mobility, flexibility, and fascia health. You know, all those things that fly under the radar but have a huge impact on how you feel every day.
But wait a second. Most of us know what mobility and flexibility are, but what about fascia? Fascia is a connective tissue that mainly is built of collagen fibers (along with elastin and water) that supports and holds together internal organs and other parts of the body. It’s part of a larger fascial system that runs from your head all the way to your toes. In English, please? It’s a network of fibers that support and shape your bones, muscles, and organs. Basically, it’s your body’s version of Skimms — it keeps you held in and supported. Comforting, right?
That is, until it responds to how you use — or abuse — your body. Fascia, much like your body’s mobility and flexibility range, responds to how we use our bodies in a particular way. It thins in places where there is less tension, and thickens in places where there is more tension — all to protect the body. The same goes for mobility and flexibility: Without taking time to actually improve, your body will stay at status quo. And that means limited mobility and pain.
Case in point: Have you ever slumped while working on a laptop (if you have not, please send us your address so we can send a crown, because you are our royal now) and felt your neck tighten? That’s your fascia compensating to protect the body — but it eventually will cause restrictions, meaning you’re not feeling as good as you can. The truth of it all is that most people don’t even know how good their bodies are designed to feel — but that doesn’t have to be our reality. Try to incorporate stretches to help you loosen fascia, promote flexibility and give you more mobility and feel-good days, and you’ll notice the difference soon, if not immediately. Here are 4 to get you started:
Glute Bridge: Ask any millennial, and they’ll likely tell you that they’ve had lower back pain from time to time. (They’ll also tell you that watching a show from the TGIF lineup was the best time of their lives to date, but that’s for another article.) Lower back pain can pop up from lots of things, but sitting at a desk (or on a long flight, etc.) is a contributor that almost all of us have experienced. As you sit, your hip flexors shorten, which in turn weaken your glute muscles, forcing the lower back to take over. (And listen, she just can’t do it all. She needs help, people.)
Enter the simple, but highly effective, glute bridge. Not only does it help strengthen your glutes so that they can actually do some work and take the strain off your lower back, but it also helps improve hip flexibility, loosen up tight back muscles, and give you all around better mobility.
To do a glute bridge, lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground about hip-width apart. Place your hands on the ground on either side of you, while reaching past your hips. Take a deep breath and drive your belly button down to the floor while connecting your lower back to the floor. From there, push through your heels and arms, driving your hips up while squeezing your glutes and contracting your abs. Make sure your hips are in line with your knees (not higher, as this can place even more strain on your back). Hold for one breath count, and then lower back down.
Frog Stretch with a Twist: This stretch is a dynamic movement that opens the hips, groin, and rotators, and is perfect for improving hip mobility — which is important, because hips without full mobility means it’s harder to stand, bend, and walk and can lead to muscle spasms and pain. Cue Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie.”
So to keep your hips healthy (and to counteract any sitting), try this twist on a frog stretch. (In full transparency we did this right before writing this, and trust us, you’re going to thank us later.)
Come down the floor on all fours, and slide your knees apart. Make sure they’re in line with your hips, while each ankle is at a 90-degree angle underneath your knee. Lower your upper body to your forearms or palms, and settle down onto your stomach. Flex the tailbone towards the sky, and then tip the tailbone towards the ground. Continue on with that movement, and then circle one hip to a 90 degree angle and then switch to the other. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Lateral Fascia Stretch: One thing that keeps fascia flexible? Movement, movement, movement. But that’s if you’re moving the actual fascia, of course. Were any of us taught how to stretch our fascia? No. But is it actually pretty easy to do? Yes, yes it is. Here’s a stretch that works on the fascia running along the side of the body.
Starting from a standing position, cross one foot behind the other. Reach up to the sky and then lean over away from the side you want to stretch. Hold the stretch and slowly breathe in through your nose and out through our mouth.
Myofascial Release: And finally, we end on our favorite of the stretches because it hurts so, so good. Really.
Myofascial refers to muscles and the fascia around them. It involves applying prolonged pressure to an area of myofascial tissue that has tightness, inflexibility, and lack of proper movement. This happens when layers of fascia get tears from overuse and don’t heal properly, which causes them to stick together. What does that mean for you? Nothing good — just pain, tightness and discomfort. So instead of popping an Advil, may we introduce you to myofascial releasing?
The easiest way to do this is to use a tennis or lacrosse ball. Pinpoint where your pain is (we’re talking pain in your body, not in your heart after realizing it’s Sunday and you have work the next day), and then place a tennis ball where the muscles are tense. You’ll then roll the ball around the painful muscle or hold it in a tense area, and breathe until you feel a release. Let us warn you: There will be groans of pains and sharp yelps as you apply pressure — but you’ll feel like a new person on the other side as your fascia releases.
Our most favorite way to use the tennis ball for release is to stand against a wall with a tennis ball placed on our upper traps, which get tight from hunching over a computer. Or, if you have tight hips or glutes, sit on the floor and place the ball under one glute. Cross the opposite ankle onto the other thigh and roll around until you feel a release. Boom. You are now a new person. Change your name, if you want — we won’t tell.
While these stretches might not be the first thing you think of when it comes to keeping your body strong, they do help strengthen your body in a different way — along with helping you move properly and naturally. And honestly, if you’re trying to recreate any scene from Dirty Dancing (because who wouldn’t do this?), you’re going to need these stretches first.