Full Body Stretch

August 14, 2019

When spending long periods of time on your bike or sat in a vehicle, whether a regular day-out on local country roads or green roads, or weeks at a time in the saddle exploring new lands, it’s important to stay supple. This is also true if you do a job where you're sitting at a desk all day or generally in the same position for a long time every day, like driving your car, or your overland vehicle.

 

Spending hours on end in the same position can cause many aches and pains, especially when seated holding onto handlebars or a steering wheel. It can cause lots of issues with muscles for example, shortening of your hip flexors, tight pecs, forward head posture... the list goes on. This can cause neck pain, shoulder pain, hip pain, knee pain etc.

Tight forearm and wrist muscles can also contribute to common conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, golfers elbow etc, so don’t grip too tight and stretch regularly. Also, sitting with your heels slightly lifted for hours can cause tight calves and maybe even contribute to achillies tendinopathy and plantar fasciitis if not sorted out.

 

The older we get, the more of an issue this can become. You may get away with it in younger years, but if you plan on riding or travelling long-term, don’t neglect your body. 

 

 

So, all that said, what can you do about it? Well, keeping your body fit and strong is a good plan. Here I will focus on purely stretches as I have had a few requests from people about this, I have include key stretches for the whole body. I have also written several blogs including exercises for all different areas of the body and musculoskeletal conditions which are available on my blog.

 

These are primarily straightforward static stretches, and not dynamic stretches. I will add another blog about some dynamic options at a later date. Those of you who do pilates, yoga, Tai Chi etc, you're probably doing a lot of this stuff and more already. There’s multiple stretches for every body part, so this is only a taster, however I will try to give you only my top picks so you’re not spending hours on end stretching. 

 

The stretches below are split by body area, so it's easy to select just stretches for one area if that's all you want/need to work on. I have written the standard name of the exercise or movement and then the primary muscle group or specific muscles you will be stretching in brackets, in case you're interested. I have also put an approximate time it will take to do ALL of the stretches for that body area, if you do the maximum repetitions advised. Of course, if you do each stretch 3 times instead of 4 for example, this will make a big difference to timings.

 

 

Right, let's get on with it! Below is a list of stretches and mobility exercises by body area.

 

Remember: Stretches should NOT be painful. You should feel tension or a pull in the muscle, but not pain. If it is painful you are pushing it too far or too hard. Stop immediately if you experience pain. Back off a little. If possible, try to warm-up for approximately 3-5 minutes before stretching, even if it's jogging on the spot and pumping your arms, walking briskly up and down stairs etc. 

 

If you want to really make a difference with stretches, or if you have one area that's particularly tight, aim to do them at least twice a day. This is obviously going to take time so it may not be realistic to do them twice a day for every body part, however what you can do is choose one area to really work on and do that more often. If you are going on a day ride, try to do the stretches before and after, but warm-up first.

 

 

HEAD/NECK STRETCHES - 12 minutes

 

Side stretch (Upper Trapezius)

 

Stand or sit. Keep your head facing forwards and take your head over to one side. You can then use your hand to assist the movement and increase the stretch if comfortable.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

Side stretch with rotation (Levator Scapulae)

 

Stand or sit. Keep your head facing forwards and take your head over to one side. If you have taken your head over to the right, turn your head a little as if you want to look at your right shoulder. If you have taken your head over to the left, turn your a little as if you want to look at your left shoulder. You can then use your hand to assist the movement and increase the stretch if comfortable.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

Forward head stretch (Upper Trapezius, Levator Scapulae and Splenius)

 

Bend your head forwards and bring your chin as close to your chest as possible. You can then use your hand to assist the movement and increase the stretch if comfortable.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

Neck Retractions (Train deep neck flexors, stretch posterior neck muscles)

 

This exercise takes a little bit of getting used to and it helps if you can use a mirror. 

 

Keep your head straight and looking forwards. Start in a relaxed, natural position. As you can see in the photo, my natural position isn’t 'textbook' good posture as my ears are not in line with my shoulders. Then, keeping your body still, move your head back without tilting your chin up or down...this is key. I am afraid it will give you a double chin temporarily! 

You can use your hands to gently assist the movement. Hold here for a few seconds and release. Some people find if they start this exercise lying down it is easier . It is not a huge movement but a good one to master as it helps work your deep neck flexors which are very important. Although in this instance this exercise is not a stretch as such, it’s a good idea to add it in.

Repeat this 12-15 times for about 2-3 sets each side.

 

 

 

 

SHOULDER GIRDLE STRETCHES - 8 minutes

 

Door stretch (Pectoralis)

 

Stand next to a door-frame, edge of a wall etc. Place the forearm of the side you want to stretch against the wall. Take your arm up-to about 90 degrees (between your side and upper arm). Keeping your arm relaxed and still, gently rotate your body away from the arm until you feel a stretch in your chest and/or in the front of your shoulder.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

Horizontal adduction stretch (Posterior shoulder/cuff muscles)

 

Sit or stand. Bring one arm straight across in front of you and use your other hand to support the arm and draw it in closer to your upper chest (see photo).

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

 

WRIST/FOREARM STRETCHES - 10 minutes

 

Wrist flexion (wrist extensors)

 

Sit or stand. Keeping your forearm still, palm facing down towards the floor, bend your wrist so that your hand moves downwards. You can then use your other hand to assist the movement and increase the stretch if comfortable.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

 Wrist extension (wrist flexors)

 

Sit or stand. Keeping your forearm still, palm facing up towards the ceiling, bend your wrist back so that your hand moves downwards. You can then use your other hand to assist the movement and increase the stretch if comfortable.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

Finger spreading (Lumbricals, policis and digiti minimi muscles)

 

This is quite simple. Splay your fingers and hold. This can also be done with your hand on a table.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side. You can do both hands at the same time.

 

 

 

 

TORSO/BACK STRETCHES - 17 minutes

 

Side stretch (Latissimus Dorsi)

 

Stand straight, feet hip width apart. Take one hand up and over your head whilst leaning your body in the same direction in which your lifted arm is moving (see picture). You should feel a stretch down the side of your body on the same side of the lifted arm.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

Torso rotation (Obliques and deep spinal muscles)

 

Ideally sit in a chair with a back. This will stop you twisting your legs so much. Rotate your upper body around as far as you can go, following the movement with your head. You can use your arms to increase the rotation if comfortable (see photo).

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each direction.

 

 

 

Childs pose (Erector Spinae, Gluteals, Piriformis, Hamstrings)

 

Get onto all fours. Slowly sit back on your heels as far as comfortable and let your hands slide forwards as far as comfortable.

Hold this position for 30 seconds. Return to the start. Repeat 3-4 times.

 

 

Cobra (Abdominals and aids spinal mobility)

 

Lie on your front and have your elbows bent with forearms either side of your chest, fingers pointing forwards. Push up on your forearms so that your upper body lifts off the floor a little and then, if comfortable, you can push up on your hands and straighten your elbows so more of your upper body is off the floor. With this exercise keep your pelvis on the floor.

Hold this position for 30 seconds. Return to the start. Repeat 3-4 times.

 

 

 

Back Extensions (To aid spinal mobility)

 

Stand up straight. With hands on your hips, lean back as far as comfortable with the movement coming from your lower back, not just your upper back.

Hold 5 seconds. Return to standing upright.  Repeat 8-10 times. Repeat for 2-3 sets.

 

 

 

Touch your toes (Back Extensors, Hamstrings, Gluteals and aids spinal mobility)

 

Option 1. Be careful with this stretch especially if you are prone to back spasms. Maybe consider the seated stretch below if needed. Standing, slowly and gently reach down towards your toes. Have something near to hold onto if needed.

Hold this relaxed position for 30 seconds. Return to the start (use your hands on your legs or support if needed). Repeat 3-4 times.

 

 

 

Option 2. If the standing stretch is too much, do it in sitting position instead. Let yourself slowly relax forwards, moving your hands towards the floor.

Hold this relaxed position for 30 seconds. Return to the start (use the chair or your legs if needed). Repeat 3-4 times.

 

 

 

 

HIP/LEG STRETCHES - 28 minutes

 

Hip flexor stretch (Iliopsoas)

 

Kneel on the floor. Place one foot in front of you, flat on the floor so your knee is at a right angle. Keeping your back upright and hips straight, push your hips forward until you get a stretch in the front of your hip of the leg which is back. You can put something under the knee of your back leg to make it more comfortable if needed.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

Figure-4 stretch (Piriformis)

 

Option 1. Sit on a chair. Place one foot over the knee of the other leg. Gently use one or both hands to place gentle downward pressure on the elevated knee (see picture).

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

Option 2. Lie down on your back, with your knees bent up, feet on the floor. Place one foot over the knee of the other leg. Grab behind the knee of the other leg (i.e. the one which your foot is rested on) and gently pull it up towards your chest.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

Quads stretch (Rectus Femoris)

 

Stand up or lay on a firm surface, flat on your stomach. Bring your heel towards your bottom and use the hand of the same side of the leg you are stretching to grab your foot/ankle and hold it as close to your bottom as possible until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip/thigh. If you can't reach your ankle then you can use a towel or belt to place around your ankle to help bring it towards your bottom. While doing this exercise, do not let your knee drift forwards and keep it in line with your other knee. This is mainly applicable whilst standing, when lying on your front the ground should stop your knee drifting forwards, however make sure your hip does not lift off the floor.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

 

Straight leg stretch (Hamstrings)

 

Sit on the edge of a chair. Keep one leg bent at 90 degrees and have the other one out straight with the heel resting on the floor. Lean forwards from the hips using your hands on your leg to support you, until you get a stretch in the back of your thigh.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

Wide Leg Stretch (Adductors)

 

Stand with your feet out as wide as comfortable, feet pointing forwards. Keep one leg straight and slowly bend the other knee, allowing your weight to shift over onto the bent leg. You should feel a stretch in the inside of your thigh. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Slowly return to the start position. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

Calf stretches (Gastrocnemius and Soleus)

 

Gastroc stretch - Stand facing a wall, worktop or solid object that you can place your hands on. Place one leg straight back behind you with your heel firmly on the floor and lean on your hands. Now let the front knee bend until you feel a stretch in your calf.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

Soleus stretch - Stand facing a wall, worktop or solid object that you can place your hands on. Place one foot in front of the other. Now let your knees bend and make sure the back foot stays on the floor. You should feel a stretch in the calf of your leg which is at the back.

Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Release. Repeat 3-4 times each side.

 

 

Remember....STOP any stretches which are painful. If stretches cause any symptoms such as pins and needles, numbness, tingling or other unexpected symptoms, stop immediately. If these symptoms persist, make sure you seek a professional assessment (e.g. physiotherapy, GP/MD) in order to certain why these symptoms are occurring. DO NOT undertake any new stretches or exercises of an area where you have an injury, ongoing pain or previous surgery without first seeking a professional assessment. Also, please bear in mind that if you have an area that has become increasingly tight, it may be compensating for another area which has become weak and therefore it would be advantageous to seek a physiotherapy assessment to check if stretching is the right thing for you to be doing, or if strengthening would be a better way forwards first.

 

If you have any questions, please contact me at suzie@overlanderhealth.com 

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