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Health & Wellness

9 Simple Stretches to Boost Energy

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We’ve all been there. Whether it’s a mid-morning yawn attack, a post-lunch urge to snooze, or an early evening eyelid droop, there are plenty of times throughout the day when your energy can unexpectedly plummet, leaving you lethargic and desperate for a quick fix.

But instead of reaching for another cup of Joe or a sugary snack, consider something easier, healthier, and more gentle on your body: stretching.

“Stretching during the day can help loosen your posture and break up long periods of being ‘stuck’ in a certain position,” explains Tyler Spraul, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and head trainer at Exercise.com. The right movements done at the right time can also help release tight muscle tissue and increase blood flow, which may in turn elevate your mood and mental alertness.

Here, Spraul and six other fitness experts share their top moves for early morning, afternoon and anytime/anywhere bouts of energy.

Early Morning Stretches

1. The full body stretch

How to do it: This first one is extremely simple and should be done within the first few minutes of waking up. While you’re still underneath the covers, extend your arms overhead and reach through your legs and toes.

Why it works: “This first extension of arms and legs wakes up those muscles and gets your blood moving before you even get out of bed,” says Emily McLaughlin, an Austin-based Pilates, barre and yoga teacher.

2. The cross body twist

How to do it: While you’re still in bed and lying on your back, bring one leg into your chest and gently take it across your body. Gaze over the opposite shoulder, and hold for three to four breaths, then move into the other side.

Why it works: “This nice twist mobilizes the joints of your spine, gives your internal organs a massage and revs up blood circulation,” explains McLaughlin.

Post-Lunch Stretches

3. The cat and cow sequence

How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees with your shoulders directly above your wrists and hips directly above your knees. Keep your back flat. Spread your fingers wide, and inhale and drop your stomach towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling. Broaden across your shoulder blades and draw your shoulders away from your ears. (In yoga, this is known as the “cow” pose.) As you exhale, suck in your stomach and round your back toward the ceiling, like a cat stretching its back. (In yoga, this is known as the “cat” pose.) Release the top of your head toward the floor, but don't force your chin to your chest. Inhale, coming back into the cow pose, and then exhale as you return to the cat post.

Why it works: This sequence will stretch your back while easing the tension many of us harbor in the neck and shoulders, explains Marife Sanvictores, a coach from the personal training app 8fit. These poses also stretch your hips and abdomen, which can aid digestion, and open your chest, which can slow your breath and alleviate stress.

4. The calf stretch

How to do it: Keep a tennis ball at your desk and when you stand up to take a call (or just to take a break), kick off your shoes and step the ball of your right foot on to the top of the tennis ball and let your heel descend to the floor. Keep your hips over your ankles (no leaning forward or back). Stay for 3 to 5 breaths and then switch feet.

Why it works: This moves stretches your calf muscles, which get compressed by wearing shoes with any sort of a heel, explains Rhode Island-based yoga instructor Kate Hanley. “It also increases circulation through this typically tight area of the body, meaning your heart has to work less hard to pump blood to and from your feet,” she says.

Afternoon/Anytime Stretches

5. The forward fold and sweep

How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and slowly bend forward at your hips, keeping your legs straight (but do not lock your knees). Bend forward until your your head faces your knees and your arms hang towards the floor. Slightly tuck your chin in. You will feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Focus on deep inhales and exhales. Hold for 30 seconds. Then, rotate both hands to the left side of your left foot, and then to the right of your right foot, in sync with your breath. Do this motion for 30 seconds, and then slowly stand up and round your shoulders down and back into a strong posture.

Why it works: By stretching the hamstrings, which are tight in most people (especially those who are desk-bound majority of the day), you will increase blood flow and mobility, says Iowa-based personal trainer Sergio Rojas. “By bringing blood flow to the head temporarily, you will also feel a greater sense of mental energy and alertness,” he adds.

6. The back bend

How to do it: Stand with your feet hip-width apart and place the palms of your hands on either side of your lower back. Slowly push your hips forward and begin to lean back. Lean your head back as well to stretch the muscles in front of your neck. Make sure to keep your stomach muscles slightly tensed so your lower spine does not compress or collapse. Take four to eight deep breaths and return to starting position. Repeat three times.

Why it works: “By stretching the front of your hips, front of your shoulders, and opening your ribcage, you increase blood flow and oxygen throughout your body,” says Rojas. Plus, maintaining your balance while pushing your head up and back requires additional brain-body connection that will boost your nerve activity and blood flow.

7. The opposite twist and lean

How to do it: Standing with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart, extend your left arm directly out in front of you with your palm facing up. Rotate it to the right as far as you can, keeping your gaze on your fingertips. Take your right hand and reach it overhead and to the left, causing your body to lean to the left. Hold this pose for 30 seconds and breathe at a slightly rapid rate through your nose. Repeat on the opposite side.

Why it works: The twisting motion opens your ribcage and stretches the muscles attached to the ribcage, which allows your lungs to expand to full capacity, explains Rojas. And, the rapid breathing can amp up your heartbeat and provide a mild adrenaline rush, which will increase your energy and awareness.

8. The spine extender

How it works: Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet firmly planted on the ground, shoulder-width apart. Reach your arms back and interlace your fingers. Inhale, lift your chest and extend your knuckles back behind you. Keep your stomach muscles tight as best you can—this will help protect your low back. Exhale and relax, keeping your fingers interlaced. Repeat three times.

Why it works: “We tend to get tight in our chest from all the rounding we do over our computers, phones, etc,” says Kait Hurley, certified yoga instructor and meditation coach. “This is an amazing way to counteract the slump and open up the front body.”

9. The three-way neck stretch

How to do it: Start by putting one arm behind you, allowing it to rest against the middle of your back. Use your free hand to grab the wrist of the arm that's behind you, and gently pull it further across your back. While you're gently pulling, lean your head in the direction that you are pulling your wrist towards. Lean your head that way for 5 to 10 seconds, then you can move your head so that you are looking straight up at the ceiling for another 5 to 10 seconds. To finish the move, look down to the floor for 5 to 10 more seconds. Switch hands and repeat on the other side.

Why it works: This move helps fight the forward neck posture caused by spending so much time hunched over a phone or computer screen, explains Spraul.

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