Most of us spend the majority of our Monday through Friday in a less-than-active job. Even with daily fitness and some intermittent movement, our posture takes a beating. As such, I'm inviting your to join me on Fridays for a stretching/flexibility session that helps you relax into your weekend and shake off the "work week-ness" (yup - I love bad puns).
As I spent my week sitting in front of a computer, treating patients and driving several hours to visit family, my posture needed some help. As soon as I got out of the car this afternoon, I performed two of my favorite stretches.
A daily must for anyone with a history of neck, upper back or shoulder pain, this stretch helps open the shoulders and restore a more neutral position of the scapula. The muscles that are stretched include: the pectoralis major, the pectoralis minor, the coracobrachialis and the fascia across the chest and anterior neck. In some super-tight individuals, it can address some tightness in the scalenes and upper traps (as your head and neck position in the stretch are neutral).
Standing in a doorway, place one foot in front. The arms go along the frame with a 90 bend at the elbow and 90 degrees of abduction at the shoulders (you can vary this position by raising or lowering the arms to target different areas of the muscles being stretched if you so choose). Engage the abdominal muscles (to keep the back in neutral and protected). With the head looking straight and neck upright, lunge into the front leg until a stretch is felt across the chest and the front of the arms. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat 2-4 times.
Kneeling hip flexor stretch:
Sitting all day puts the hip flexor muscles (psoas major & illiacus) in a shortened position. Over time, this can lead to connective tissue tightening and some decrease in the ability of the muscle fibers to lengthen fully. When this happens, the hip flexors can pull on the lumbar spine and increase the stress on the discs/vertebrae (by increasing the arch in the low back as compared to anatomical neutral). People that have this problem typically complain of feeling stiff and unable to stand upright without a pulling in the low back initially upon rising from a chair.
Kneeling in a lunge, with the bottom knee on a soft surface, flatten the low back by engaging the abdominal muscles. Then shift the weight forward until a stretch is felt in the front of the hip of the down leg. Be sure as you are lunging forward that 1) the front leg is sufficiently forward to ensure that the knee stays behind the toe and 2) the low back DOES NOT ARCH. You'll notice that you don't have to lean much to engage the stretch - so be careful not to lose the core control! Hold for 30-45 seconds and repeat 2-3 times per side.