When we think about great fitness, we often envision big muscles, rippling six-packs or marathon runners. However, we often forget about flexibility and balance, two equally important pillars of fitness that should not be overlooked. Being flexible means you’ll have less pain and stiffness, and be far less prone to injury, especially as you age.
One of the best ways to improve your flexibility is to stretch, and many people find that 30 minutes before bedtime is a great time to meditate, wind down and perform some simple, gentle stretches. As a bonus, making stretching a part of your nightly routine may also help you to sleep better: having a set routine that gives you time to unwind in a predictable way every night can help to settle your thoughts and get you ready to drift off. Finally, releasing muscular tension through stretching can in itself relax you and help you prepare for bed.
How To Stretch
As you stretch, make sure that you are not forcing anything. When stretching, you should go to the point of slight discomfort, but not to the point of pain. Breathe slowly as you stretch: physical therapist Alice Beckett-Wilson says, “All stretches should be done with a focus on breathing.” If you ever feel pain when you’re stretching, back out of the stretch; you don’t want to tear anything.
Here are five basic stretches to do before bed that will have you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated every morning.
1. Modified Hurdler Stretch
A lot of us have tight hamstrings. Whether you spend a lot of time on your feet or spend your days sitting at a desk, the hamstrings have a way of tightening up on us. Taking some time to stretch them at night can help to undo some of the day’s tension.
Sit on the ground with one leg extended out in front of you. Bend the other knee and place the sole of the foot against the thigh of your straight leg. Lean forward over your straight leg. Avoid rounding your back. Breathe slowly and hold for 30 seconds.
2. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
The hip flexors are also muscles that get tight for many of us. These muscles are the ones that help to raise the legs or to bend the body forward. Because many of us spend much of our time sitting, these muscles spend a lot of time in contraction. As a result, if we don’t take steps to prevent it, these muscles will often become stiff and shortened. The kneeling hip flexor stretch is a great way to help with this.
Begin in a kneeling position, then bring one leg forward and place it with the foot flat on the ground. Bend the knee to a 90 degree angle, ensuring that the knee is over the ankle—do not allow the knee to float to the right or left.
Shift forward to stretch your back leg. Keep your hands on your front thigh, and make sure that your back is kept straight. Hold for 30 seconds.
3. Lying Piriformis Stretch
The lying piriformis stretch is a great way to improve flexibility in your glutes and hips, which can help to fight back pain and help you get a better night’s sleep.
Start lying on your back with your knees bent. Lift your right leg and place the ankle against your left thigh. Grasp your left thigh with your hands and pull it into you until you’re at about 90 degrees. You should feel the stretch deep in your glutes and hips. Breathe deeply and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on both sides.
This motion stretches the muscles of your spine and core. Begin on your hands and knees, with your arms straight under your shoulders. Slowly breathe out as you round through your back like a frightened cat, tightening your abdominal muscles and rounding your neck downward. Then slowly exhale as you arch your back and look up toward the ceiling. Continue to move slowly with your breath for 20 breaths.
5. Extended Cone Stretch
Begin standing with your feet about hip-width apart. Raise both arms above your head and clasp the fingers together. Breathe in deeply and bend your whole body to the left. Try to really feel yourself lengthening through the side-body. Hold here for a breath, then return to the middle on your next inhale. On your next exhale, bend your body to the right and repeat. Perform this three more times on each side.
After you’ve done these stretches, you’ll feel more relaxed and loose. If you notice that a specific place in you is still tight, do a quick stretch for that spot. Sweet dreams!