You don't quite want to do yoga, and you're not trying to break a sweat in the middle of what feels like your trillionth day working from home. But you are a little desperate to just move around, given that the coronavirus pandemic has severely limited your exercise options. If you don't want to do a full-on workout, may I humbly suggest starting a stretching routine instead?
"Anyone, at any level of physical fitness or age, can benefit from stretching and can get started very easily — no equipment or sweating required," says Aimee Cho, co-founder of Outer Reach, a New York City-based stretching service. Cho tells Bustle that joint mobility is especially essential when you're glued to your couch and definitely-not-ergonomic home office chair all day. "Your ability to move and live pain- and tension-free will be drastically improved by incorporating a stretch practice into your life."
This kind of movement doesn't have to be advanced, but it helps to make it consistent. "As with any goal, it’s helpful to set a target, such as three times a week for 10 minutes a day," says Dr. Alexis Colvin, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at the Mount Sinai Health System.
If you're concerned about hurting yourself or not knowing where to start, Dr. Colvin says that there are some stretching basics for beginners to keep in mind. Stop if you feel pain —that sharp twinge in your wrist doesn't mean go harder, it means back off. Make sure to keep your stretches even on both sides (don't ignore your left quad after going hard on your right). Finally, take an inventory to make sure you're hitting major muscle groups throughout your body, e.g., shoulders, upper back, hips, and calves.
"Stretching should be seen as an 'exercise', and just like any new exercise, should be started with a gentle practice before increasing duration or intensity," says Jenny Maier, a yoga instructor and personal trainer for the running and cycling app Strava. In other words, if you can't touch your toes, don't try to force it. Identify your specific goals — such as holding your ankles for 10 seconds — and go from there.
Do you want to counteract the effects of sitting all day? As a personal trainer, I often recommend clients focus first on stretching their chest and hips (both of which get cramped from those hours playing Animal Crossing). If you're not accustomed to stretching, Maier says to begin your practice lying on the ground or sitting in a chair. To get into loosening your hips, lie on your back with both knees bent and your feet on the ground. Bring your left ankle to cross over your right knee. Experiment with pulling your right knee toward your chest to help stretch your left hip.
If you're doing this sitting down, cross your ankle over your knee and lean forward into the motion. Hold that pose for a few seconds on each side every 20 minutes or so. Try setting an alarm on your phone, or getting up every time you cross off something on your to-do list. Cho says that especially during social distancing, stretching like this throughout the day will make sitting much more bearable and walking around afterward less stiff and painful.
To improve your ability to breathe deeply after hunching over your computer and phone, slowly roll your chin down toward your chest. Gently tilt back to look at the ceiling, then ease your left ear toward your left shoulder. Do the same on your right side. Stand or sit tall and extend your arms wide for a big hug, opening through your chest by carefully pulling your elbows back behind you and towards each other. You can pulse through this movement or hold it for several seconds, again every 20 minutes. Getting into the habit is really as simple doing as these few movements.
Listen to your body to figure out what other kinds of stretches you need most. "By starting with a gentle stretching practice, supported by props [like towels to help stretch your calves], and with a slower pace, you can begin to learn more about how your muscles respond to certain stretches," Maier says. YouTube can be your guide to learning stretches for your entire body. If you need modifications for injuries or pain, you can put that in the search, too (think "stretches after shoulder injury").
Whether you're setting your alarm to remind you to do one or two "break time" stretches or forming a 15-minute morning routine, your body will thank you for increasing blood flow to your muscles and stretching that quarantine stiffness away. You won't even have to break a sweat to do it.
Dr. Alexis Colvin, MD, orthopedic sports medicine surgeon, the Mount Sinai Health System
Jenny Maier, yoga instructor and personal trainer, Strava