This Morning Stretch Routine Will Get Your Day Off to the Best Start

Stretching

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If you wake up the way I once did, then your morning goes something like this: You roll out of bed after hitting snooze one too many times, yawn, wipe the sleep from your bleary eyes, hit the brew button on the coffee pot, and start getting ready for work. I've always been one of those night owls who has trouble waking up early to do anything productive. In fact, if it were up to me, and rushed weekday mornings weren't a thing, I would spend more of my time scrolling aimlessly through Instagram under my blankets as opposed to jump-starting my day.

Of course, said aimless scrolling results in tiredness and a general feeling of cloudiness and unpreparedness come work time, which is why, long ago, I resolved to switch up my morning routine (or lack thereof). I wanted to wake up (i.e., drag myself out of bed) early enough to establish some semblance of a wellness routine, one that would include journaling, reading, and stretching, too. Take it from Dana VanPamelen, cofounder of Hit House in New York City. "Instead of hitting snooze," she says, "take those extra morning moments to move gently through a stretching sequence. Even 10 minutes before your cup of coffee can help get you into a positive morning mindset and routine."

Here's the thing, though. I didn't want to do just any stretches. I wanted an expert-recommended routine so I could keep myself accountable and feel like I was actually accomplishing something—not just sleepily fumbling around on a yoga mat at 7 a.m. Luckily, a few wellness experts were kind enough to share some advice.

Meet the Expert

Dana VanPamelen is the cofounder of Hit House, a boutique Muay Thai kickboxing studio, in New York City.


Jasmine Rausch is a certified yoga therapist, corporate wellness expert, and founder of Root Yoga Therapy in Los Angeles.


Christine Bullock is a fitness and lifestyle expert, the founder of KAYO Body Care, and the creator of the Evolution 20, Super Shred, and Body Reborn fitness series.

"Just as our bodies need sleep to recover from the day, heal our muscles, and decompress, we also need movement in the morning to help release the connective tissues that have been accumulating between our muscle when they’re at rest," explains Rausch. This means we literally have to "recover" from our rest period.

"It's just as critical to counteract the effects of our six to eight hours of stillness (if we're lucky) as it is to get rest. Moving in the morning reduces stiffness, alleviates common aches and pains, and loosens chronically tight muscles. By adding stretching into our morning routine, we are waking up the body by boosting circulation, increasing energy, and decreasing pain," Rausch says.

Bullock agrees. "Stretching in the morning helps to get your blood and oxygenation to your body flowing, waking up the entire body gently. There are benefits to stretching the relaxed muscles after the state of sleep and relieving any tension from the manner you slept. It’s also a great routine to align proper posture for the day ahead," she says.

Now you can see why I was dead-set on carving out a permanent place for a morning stretch session into my weekday mornings. Armed with the advice of three trusty fitness experts, I’m raising my bedroom curtains and letting you in on the 10 best morning stretches to start your day off right.

Knees to Chest Stretch

According to Rausch, a great stretch to start off with is this classic. "Some consider this stretch to be one of the most therapeutic stretches around because of its gentle way to stabilize the pelvis and low back," Rausch says. "This movement also safely stretches the low back and helps reduce low back pain. Drawing the knees into the chest encourages blood flow to the vital organs, reduces bloating, and stimulates digestion."

To perform the stretch:

  • Lie on your back and gently draw your knees to your chest.
  • Hold for 15-30 seconds. Repeat 2-3 times.

Single or Double Knee Supine Twist Stretch

“When you are short on time, it is key to do movements that target multiple parts of the body and offer several benefits," Rausch says. The supine twist “targets your back, hip, and glutes in one fell swoop. This is also a lovely stretch to help open the chest, restore the spine's natural range of motion, and lengthen the waist. Additionally, twists help massage the organs, release toxins, and strengthen the abdominal muscles.”

To perform this stretch:

  • Lie on your back and turn your pelvis so that one leg falls over the other. 
  • Turn your head in the same direction as your top leg.

Supine Butterfly Stretch

This is yet another one you can perform still lying in your bed. (These types of horizontal stretches make it easier for me to keep a morning habit since my body's naturally inclined to lie down for as long as possible each morning. The first four here grant us this luxury). “I love this stretch because it just feels very open. When we are open, we are more willing to give and receive," says Rausch. "Starting the day in this position not only helps create more space in the groins, knees, and hips but also can help create space in the heart. Not to mention, this pose has been known to relieve fatigue and increase overall energy levels."

To perform this stretch:

  • Lie on your back and draw your feet up towards your pelvic area.
  • Bring the soles of your feet together, allowing your legs to fall open with your knees going out to each side. 
  • Hold 15-30 seconds, and then release.

Glute Bridge

If you sit at your desk most of the day like I do, the glute bridge stretch should become your new best friend. It not only opens up the hips and stretches the hip flexors, but it may also help strengthen the glutes and hamstrings.

To perform this stretch:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart with the soles flat on the floor.
  • Straighten your arms, palms down, along your torso towards your feet.
  • Lift your hips up by pressing through your feet and squeezing your glutes.
  • Take a few deep breaths, then slowly lower your hips back to the starting position.

Child’s Pose

This yoga staple is a great way to elongate the spine, and stretch the shoulders, back, and chest.

To perform this stretch:

  • Kneel down with your knees hip-width apart and your feet touching coming together behind you.
  • Exhale while lowering your torso to rest on your thighs as you sit your butt back towards your feet.
  • Straighten your arms past your head and reach forward, palms down, as far as you can, concentrating on extending your spine.

Neck Stretch

VanPamelen recommends a simple neck stretch "to release any tension that happened while sleeping (we all find funky sleeping positions sometimes)." Just be gentle because most of us are usually quite stiff in the morning, and you don't want to cause injury.

To perform this stretch:

  • Slowly and gently bring your right ear down toward your right shoulder.
  • Use your right hand to gently pull the left side of your head toward your right shoulder to bring the right ear and shoulder closer together. 
  • Hold for 15 seconds, breathing deeply and slowly.
  • Repeat on the other side, using your left arm.

Cat-Cow

Another great stretch for the spine, hips, neck, and core musculature is called cat-cow since it has you dynamically alternating between two postures, each reminiscent of one of the animals. As someone who regularly watches cat videos and sends my friends cat memes, you can bet I was quickly on board with this one. The fact that it feels great also makes it an easy sell (even for you ardent dog lovers!).

To perform this stretch:

  • Kneel on all fours so that your hands are on the ground under your shoulders and your knees are on the ground under your hips. 
  • Start with a flat back and neural spine.
  • Engage your abdominals as you inhale deeply.
  • Exhale while drawing your naval towards your spine and rounding your spine up towards the ceiling.
  • Bring your chin gently to your chest.
  • Inhale while arching your back and lifting your head and tailbone toward the ceiling.
  • Repeat up to 10 times.

Seated Oblique Stretch

VanPamelen says this stretch elongates your spine and targets your rib cage and obliques.

To perform this stretch: 

  • Sit cross-legged.
  • Lace your fingers together (with your palms facing upward) and raise your arms up above your head to elongate your spine.
  • Slowly lean to one side, and hold for a few breaths.
  • Repeat, leaning to the other side.

Side Quad Stretch

“We use our quads all day, so stretching them in the morning can be super helpful,” says VanPamelen, and although the quad is typically a muscle we stretch while standing, VanPamelen says it's just as effective to stretch while lying down. 

To perform this stretch:

  • Lie on one side, with the bottom arm straight underneath your head.
  • Bend your top leg but keep your bottom leg straight, and align your knees.
  • Activate your glutes as you gently pull your top foot closer to your butt using your top arm. Your knees should stay together.
  • Hold for at least 15 seconds, release, then roll over to switch sides. 

Forward Fold Stretch

What better way to end a morning stretch sequence than with a classic forward fold? Yogis know that forward fold is a stretch that doubles as a place of rest and reflection, which makes it perfect for setting your daily intentions. "A forward fold is a great, easy way to stretch your hamstrings and release your lower back," VanPamelen says. 

To perform this stretch:

  • Stand with your knees slightly bent and your feet hip-width apart.
  • Hinge at your hips so that your upper body hangs down over your legs.
  • Place your hands where they comfortably land (floor, legs, ankles).
  • Hold while taking deep breaths, gently swaying back and forth from one side to the other, and nodding your head “yes” and shaking your head “no.” 
  • To return to standing, draw your navel toward your spine, and slowly roll up one vertebra at a time.

After these stretches, you'll feel so much better about your day—take it from me. Not to be a broken record, but do go slow. There's no surer way to start your day on the wrong foot then by straining a muscle first thing in the morning. Rausch reminds us to listen to our bodies and learn our limits.

"Always use the breath. It's a powerful tool to help relieve muscle tension, reduce pain, and will allow you to surrender and safely move deeper into the stretch," she says. "Diaphragmatic breathing (aka focused belly breathing) is an approachable practice for anyone and a great way to learn how to breathe more fully and consciously. As you are in your stretch, simply focus the attention on expanding the belly on your inhale and gently contracting the belly on your exhale."

And, if you happened to hit the snooze button a few too many times and don’t have time for all 10 stretches, that’s okay too. “Performing even one stretch a morning is beneficial to you physically and mentally,” Bullock says. “However, I recommend at least five stretches, either focused on a tight area or one for each major area of the body: hips, low back, spine, chest, neck.” On days I’ve lingered in bed a little too long to fit in the full routine and still get to my desk on time, I make sure to get in child’s pose, cat-cow, and the forward fold.

Finally, hold the pose—don't rush through it, no matter how tired or rushed you may feel. "Hold the pose! So many of us do not give enough time for the body to respond to the stretch. Just like life, we tend to be in the 'onto the next' mindset," says Rausch. "Give your body the time to respond to the movement and while you're there, give yourself the opportunity to connect."

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