Stretches Improve Mobility and Balance – Don’t Skip Your Stretches, Add Them To Your Bedtime Routine
I will come clean here and admit that I hate doing my stretches. Even before my Ankylosing Spondylitis diagnosis, I was never able to touch my toes, making the popular downward dog Yoga pose painful and frustrating. The problem is, if I don’t do my stretches, I get stiff and achy.
Stretching keeps our muscles strong and healthy and we need flexibility to maintain a range of motion. Everyone needs stretching, not just those of us with joint problems. In addition to the fact that I hate doing my stretches, there isn’t a lot of room in my day to do stretches. I imagine most moms have this problem. Between child rearing and work and household chores, by the time we’re ready for bed we are READY for bed.
My other challenge is that my three year old is on a sleep boycott. He still naps at daycare but doesn’t need the sleep. What does that mean? It means that he stays up until almost midnight most nights (here’s where I hang my head in shame since I’m failing parenting with this one!). Unlike my oldest who went through the same issue when he was three, my youngest is a strong-willed child who doesn’t care that he’s supposed to stay in his room. He plays in the hallway. He comes in my room about 50 times to tell me things. He wanders into the living room where my husband is watching a movie. We basically have zero child-free time in our day (outside of work) at the moment. Before you suggest bedtime routine tactics, trust me, we’ve tried them all. This kid truly humbles us as parents.
For a while, I used my little night owl as an excuse to not do my stretches…until I read a blog post by a single mom who also has Ankylosing Spondylitis. She shared that she does her stretches with her three year old son to make sure she is still taking care of herself. At first, I thought, well, her kid must be super easy and lets her do her stretches.
Then, I stopped making excuses and started doing my stretches regardless of my son’s whereabouts. My body was crying out for movement. I was getting more stiff and achy than normal and I knew that if I didn’t start doing my stretches, I’d end up back in physical therapy where someone will make me do them.
A funny thing happened when my son saw me doing my stretches – he started doing them too! Now, we both do stretches before bed. I get limber and my hope is that it teaches him good self-care habits for when he’s a sedentary adult.
10 Simple Bedtime Stretches
I have been in and out of physical therapy for most of my adult life. These are the stretches that they always recommend whenever my body is in a bad place, so I’ll share them with you. If you work at a desk most of the day, odds are, these are your problem zones too.
(Note – I try to provide image sources when I can but in many cases, no sources were provided.)
1. Shoulder stretch – extend your arm across your chest with your opposite arm under your elbow. Hold for 90 seconds then do opposite side. Don’t rotate your body and remember to relax your body during the stretch.
2. Upper Arm Stretch – lift one arm and bend it behind your head. Grab elbow with other hand and gently pull your elbow towards your head. Relax and hold for 90 seconds and do opposite side.
3. Upper Trapezius Stretch – Place left arm behind your back and tilt right ear to right shoulder. Use your right hand to gently guide your head to the side without turning your neck. You should feel a gentle stretch. If it hurts, you’re pulling too much. Hold for 30 seconds and do the same on opposite side.
4. Neck Stretch – Place your left arm behind your back. Gently look down toward your hip – your head should be pointing toward armpit. Use your right arm to gently pull your head down to get a better stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and do the same on opposite side.
5. Chest Opener – Stand slightly behind a doorway frame. Put one arm on each side of the frame – make sure shoulders are down. Lean into the doorframe and hold for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 times. This is one of my favorite stretches – it really opens your chest.
6. Hip/Buttock Stretch – Lay on your back and bring your knees to a 90 degree angle. Cross your left ankle over your right knee and reach through to bring your right knee closer to your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
7. Pigeon Pose – Start on all fours and slowly bring your right knee forward placing it behind your right hand. Place your ankle in front of your left hip and extend your rear leg so that it is vertical to the rest of your body (right leg is perpendicular). Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on other side.
8. Hamstring Stretch (a.k.a. my least favorite stretch) – Lie flat on your back and gently lift your left leg toward your head (or the best you can). You can use your hand to guide or use a rolled towel if you are lack me and lack flexibility. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat on other side.
9. Quad Stretch – Stand near a wall or counter in case you need to use a support for balance. Slowly bring your right leg up to your rear. When it is high enough, use your right hand to grab your ankle and pull your foot in as close as you can to your rear.
10. Child Pose Stretch (a.k.a. the reward stretch) – Kneel down on the floor with your big toes touching. Sit back on your heels and keep knees hip width apart. Exhale and bring chest to rest on the tops of your thighs and stretch your arms and hands in front of you. Breathe deeply and hold the pose for 1 to 5 minutes. Note – you can also keep your arms at your side but I think you get a better stretch when you stretch your arms out in front of you.
My three year old likes to add a few more stretches to our routine so if I’m feeling up to it, we do arm circles, the triangle pose, spine twist, tree pose (which is pretty funny to watch a 3 year old do) and just hang and try to touch our toes (or in my case, knees). The interesting part about letting my son see me do my stretches is that he now asks for them, so I kind of have an accountability partner.
I’ve been trying to incorporate these nightly stretches into my bedtime routine at least four nights a week. Hopefully, my stretching routine will become a daily routine. Is anyone up for a 14 day challenge?
I do my lying down stretches on a yoga mat since the floor is a bit hard on my joints. I also use a rolled towel or one of my exercise bands I have collected from years of physical therapy. You don’t need anything to do the above stretching routine, but if you want to be more comfortable, you can use the tools below. I’m also sharing my foam roller because it is by far my favorite tool for when I have achy muscles.
I bought a foam roller when I was having issues with my hips while I was pregnant and use it a few times a week. I have seen mini foam rollers at Target, however, my personal opinion is, the long ones are better. I get the best chest opening stretch when I lay parallel on my foam roller with running from tailbone to my shoulders. The small rollers wouldn’t accomplish that amazing stretch. If you’ve never used a foam roller, here are a few tutorials I’ve found: Full Body Foam Roller Routine and Foam Roller Massage.