We all know the feeling of staying hunched over for hours on end, as though our muscles will never unfurl and lengthen. But according to health experts, regular stretching exercises can ease that tension, and even improve your health in general.
Though many people may associate stretching with the routine they're "supposed" to do before they exercise, lengthening muscles has many benefits just on its own. According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching can increase the range of motion in the body, as well as increase circulation to the muscles.
Fitness expert Sahra Esmonde-White, creator of the Essentrics Stretch and Strength DVD (among many others) puts a focus on gaining power in the body while also stretching it out. This type of exercise is known as dynamic stretching, which basically means actively moving the muscle into a stretch, but not holding it there for a prolonged period of time.
Esmonde-White has put together a series of exercises, both standing and "barre" (using a chair or elevated surface) for HuffPost readers to reach every part of the body. They can be done all together, or separate, depending on your wants and needs:
Shoulder Blast – Works posture, shoulders and pecs; releases tension in shoulders and upper back
1. Stand with legs shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent. Round your back and tilt your pelvis forward, extending arms in front of you at shoulder height.
2. Straighten your legs as you extend your arms directly above your head and reach towards the ceiling. Do not sink into lower back.
3. Release your grip, keeping your arms shoulder-width apart and palms facing inward.
4. Turn your palms outwards and lower your arms while slightly leaning your weight forward and opening your chest.
Repeat three times.
Side Lunge with Lever Stretch (to free your ribcage) – Stretch and tone your waist and muscles
1. Stand with legs apart in a side lunge position and drop the left hip. Lift your arms above your head and go into a deeper lunge as you pull your left wrist with your right hand.
2. Release your hands and reach arms further away — keeping them straight next to each ear.
3. Keeping abs tight and arms straight above your head, come up and out of your lunge.
Repeat on the other side.
Spine Mobility Stretch
1. Stand with feet apart, knees bent slightly with more weight on the back leg. Round the spine inward, bend elbows and fold arms inward.
2. Lean into a front lunge (bend right knee and straighten left leg while opening arms at shoulder-height and extending them back.
Repeat on other side.
Long Adductor Stretch - Increases calf and shin mobility
1. With feet wide apart, bend one knee while keeping the other leg straight. Hinge your body forward at the waist, keeping your back straight and sticking your bum out in the direction of the bent leg.
2. To deepen the stretch, the foot of the straightened leg and rotate leg in the hip joint. Repeat with the other leg.
Hip Stretch – Works posture, shoulders and pecs
1. Place left leg up on chair with knee bent and keeping the spine straight. Keep supporting leg (right) slightly bent and gently press down on the left leg to open in the hips.
2. Holding the above position, tilt your pelvis forward while gently pressing down on the left leg to deepen stretch.
3. Repeat step two, while pushing bum outward (keeping one foot firmly on the floor), arching the back and shifting weight forward.
4. Keeping your legs in the same position, lean forward and push your bum out, keeping your back straight. Press down on left leg to deepen the hip stretch. Repeat with other leg.
IT Band And Hamstring Stretch
1. Place left leg up on chair, keeping your spine straight. Keep supporting leg (right) slightly bent and flex your foot to stretch hamstring and calf.
2. Rotate flexed foot internally to stretch the long adductor.
3. Rotate flexed foot externally, bending your supporting leg further to stretch the IT band. Repeat with other leg.
Quad And Psoas – To get a deep stretch for freedom of movement in the hips; releases pain in the knees, relieves back pain; good for runners/posture
1. Get into a wide front lunge as you place the left foot on the chair (knee bent). Keep the other leg extended with your foot on the floor.
2. Hold the chair and let the right knee drop towards the floor, raising the right heel and bending the right leg (not all the way). Keep pulling up in your core and press the hips close to the chair to stretch the quad.
3. Lock your hips in place and keep your pelvis tilted forward as your straighten your back knee and press your heel into the ground to get a deep stretch in psoas. Repeat with the other leg.
IT Band Stretch
1. Place left leg up on chair keeping your spine straight. Keep supporting leg (right) slightly bent and flex your foot. Rotate your torso to the left (same side as leg on chair) and extend arm outwards at shoulder height.
2. Bend the supporting leg further as you reach your extended left arm towards the ground to deepen the hamstring stretch.
3. Sweep your left arm back up to shoulder height and reach over your left foot to deepen the hamstring and back stretch. Switch sides and repeat on the other side.
Hamstring And Long Adductor Stretch
1. Place left leg up on chair, keeping supporting leg slightly bent. With a rounded back, reach over the chair with both arms and gently pull forward to stretch hamstring.
2. Reach away from the body with your left arm (same arm as leg on the chair) to deepen the stretch on the left side of the back and the hamstring
3. Rotate the supporting leg outwards, hinge at the waist and stick your bum out to stretch the long adductor. Switch sides and repeat on other side.
1. Stand behind chair with arms extended and hands on the backrest. With feet apart and knees slightly bent, round your back, tilt your pelvis forward and drop head forward.
2. Extend both arms diagonally to the right side of the chair while shifting your hips to the left. Repeat on opposite side.
3. Step away from chair with feet wide apart and knees bent. Holding on to the backrest of the chair, extend your arms and bend forward.