It’s a natural tendency for babies and cats and dogs to stretch themselves out long after a nap — aside from being really cute, it’s because nothing feels better than a big stretch right when you wake up. Whether that means sprawling across your bed or actually rolling out a yoga mat to do a few poses, early morning achiness and stiffness are signs from your body that you could benefit from stretching in the morning.
You did, after all, just lie in bed for eight hours straight. According to John Gardner, a NASM-certified personal trainer and CEO and co-founder of Kickoff, sleeping in the same position all night is the main cause of early-morning pains and stiff muscles — as well as that innate desire to stretch. “When you stretch, you not only lengthen the muscles and reduce the tension in them, but you activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which also helps reduce the tension,” he tells Bustle.
Think of a morning stretch as oil for your muscles and joints. “When we sleep our soft tissue and joints get tight and bound up,” adds Joey Thurman, CES, CPT, FNS, a certified personal trainer with kuudose. “Simply doing some light stretching and movement can truly provide ‘lotion by way of motion.’” Read on below for all the benefits of stretching in the morning that make it a prime time to get twisty.
The Benefits Of Stretching In The Morning
At its core, stretching lengthens the muscles to release tension, like the kind that builds up overnight while you sleep. It also activates the parasympathetic nervous system and releases endorphins, which is why stretching can make you feel more awake, positive, and ready to take on the day, Gardner says.
The act of stretching also increases blood flow to wake up sleepy limbs, which can make it easier to climb out of bed. “When you start stretching in the morning, your body increases blood flow to activate the muscles in that area,” Gardner says. This is a great way to feel more refreshed, and also prep your body for all the activities you’re about to do during the day. For that same reason, Gardner says warming up with a morning stretch may reduce your risk of injuries and improve mobility so that your everyday tasks feel easier.
If you still aren’t sold on the idea of an a.m. stretch, consider your posture. According to Gardner, stretching can help improve posture because it lengthens and relaxes your muscles — something that’s especially important if you’re about to work at a desk. “Because we end up sitting in front of a screen for long periods, having tense muscles will only worsen your posture situation,” he says. But when you pop off to work after a good stretch, you’ll be way less likely to feel stiff or sore.
Of course, you can benefit from stretching any time of the day, says Thurman. There’s some evidence to suggest a post-workout stretch can do the muscles some good, and slow, gentle stretches at night aid in winding down before bed. But a morning stretch is particularly key if you need to release post-sleep tension, get your blood pumping, and feel more awake.
While any full-body stretch will feel great in the morning, Gardner suggests targeting muscles that get the most stiff and sore after maintaining a sleep position, like your arms, back, and shoulders. To open up it all up, he recommends doing a cobra stretch where you lie on your stomach, plant your hands under your shoulders, and lift your chest off the floor.
Gardner also suggests doing an upper back stretch, which you can do by raising your arms overhead, interlocking your fingers, and tilting your head back slightly as you reach up. “You can choose to do this stretch while sitting on the edge of your bed or standing up,” he says.
It also helps to do some dynamic stretches that target areas that tend to stay in shortened positions — think rounded shoulders over a desk. For that, try a doorway stretch where you put both hands on a door frame, bend your arms at right angles, and lean forward until you feel your chest open up.
Thurman also says the hip flexors need a little love in the a.m. “These get tight from sitting around all day, too,” he says. “A simple stretch can be a quad stretch standing on one leg or seated on the ground. Think about grabbing your foot and pulling your leg behind you.” Do a few of these first thing, and you should feel more limber, loose, and relaxed for the day.
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John Gardner, NASM-certified personal trainer
Joey Thurman, CES, CPT, FNS, certified personal trainer