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The Power of Stretching

The Power of Stretching

Getting a massage every week sounds amazing — if we could only afford it. Fortunately, there are stretches you can do at home to loosen up all your tight muscles and feel as good as if you’d had an actual massage. (OK, almost as good.) When you do these stretches to target your hips, neck, shoulders and more, “be quirky and intuitive,” says Wil Lewis, a New York City-based massage therapist. “Every body is different. Move your body in subtle ways within each stretch intuitively to catch the angles and corners of your body that need it most.”

BACK OF THE NECK

While standing or sitting, let your head fall forward toward your chest. Interlace your fingers behind your neck (not your head). While counting down from 20, try to lift your head while you pull your neck toward the floor with your hands. When you reach zero, let go. “Your neck will feel longer and your posture will be improved,” Lewis says.

SIDE OF THE NECK

Target your levator scapulae muscles — the ones on the side of your neck — with this stretch from Lewis. Let your right ear fall toward your right shoulder. Take your right index finger and push your chin back until you have a double chin. Lean into the stretch until it feels good, allowing the stretch to expand naturally for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.

SPLENIUS CAPITIS AND CERVICIS

Say what? These muscles hug the back of the neck close to the vertebrae and can cause headaches. “This stretch is kind of weird, but it feels great!” Lewis says. Point your nose toward your right armpit (yes, your armpit). Place your right hand on the back of your head and let the natural weight of your arm draw your nose downward. You should feel this along the back of the neck on the left side. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, allowing the tension to melt and the stretch to increase. Switch sides and repeat.

BACK OF THE SHOULDERS

This stretch is good for the back of the shoulders, including your rhomboids and trapezius muscles, Lewis says. Interlace you fingers at your lower back so your palms face back. Draw your elbows together toward the front of your body while you round your spine. Lean forward into the stretch until it feels good, allowing it to expand naturally for 30 to 60 seconds.

UPPER AND MIDDLE BACK

“This exercise helps offset the negative effects of poor posture from sitting all day,” says Steve Sudell, co-owner of StretchLab in Venice, California, which provides personalized stretching performed by certified professionals. Start by standing with your legs wide. Bend forward and place your hands on the ground. Place your right hand behind your head. Leading with your elbow, rotate your chest toward the ceiling as high as possible. Rotate back to start, trying to touch your left arm with your right elbow. Do 10 reps, then switch sides.

CHEST

Stand and stretch your arms straight out to the sides as wide as you can with your palms facing forward and fingers spread apart. Keeping your hands in this position, reach your arms behind you. For a deeper stretch, bend your wrists back until your hands start to slightly tingle. To go even deeper, bend your wrists more and lean your head back, looking up toward the ceiling. Hold for as long as 60 seconds.

SPINE

This stretch hits your spine, hip flexors and iliotibial band (the tight band of tissue that runs along the outer side of your thighs), Sudell says. Lie faceup with your arms out to the sides so your body makes T shape. Try to bring your right foot to your left hand. Pause, then switch legs. Do five reps with each leg, trying to get closer to your hand each time. Then turn over onto your stomach. Do the same movement, trying to bring your foot to the opposite hand and pausing. Do five reps with each leg.

BACK OF THE HIPS

Lie faceup with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Place your right ankle on your left knee. Interlace your fingers around your left thigh and draw the thigh toward your chest. If you need more of a stretch, Lewis says to draw your right knee and right ankle toward your right shoulder. To bring the stretch closer to the muscles along your tailbone, you can draw your right knee to your left shoulder. Regardless of how you do it, lean into the stretch until it feels good, allowing the stretch to deepen naturally for 30 to 60 seconds.

HIPS AND MORE

This one is great for runners, Sudell says. Step forward with your right leg as if you’re doing a lunge. Place your left hand on the floor so it’s even with your right foot, and get your right shoulder snuggled up against your right knee. Drop your hips toward the floor and straighten your left leg by reaching your left heel back. Hold for five seconds. Rotate your chest toward the ceiling and reach your right hand behind you, being sure to keep your right knee aligned with your right hip. Hold for five seconds. Do five reps, then switch sides.

HAMSTRINGS

“The squat to hamstring stretch is great for CrossFit and adventure athletes. Both need to have a combination of strong and flexible hamstrings, hips and quads,” Sudell says. Stand with your feet shoulder-distance apart. Keeping your feet flat on the floor, squat down until your butt almost touches the ground (widen your feet if necessary). Grab ahold of your feet and pause for three seconds. Then slowly straighten your legs as much as you can (you should feel this in your hamstrings) while still maintaining a flat back Hold for 10 seconds, then lower back to start. Do three reps.

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