It is my pleasure to present Zeena Dhalla from VerticAlign. She is a self-proclaimed posture GEEK. I hope you enjoy what she shares as much I do. 

Zeena Dhalla

It’s an amazing thing when you complete a workout.  Your arms may feel heavy from all the pushups, or perhaps you feel like you can barely walk up the stairs from squatting repeatedly.  Maybe you’re sweaty from following around your Zumba instructor and barely keeping up!  Regardless, you’re DONE.  You throw on your coat, grab your towel, and head to the showers feeling accomplished.

But are you done, really?  Exercising can be amazing for the body, but let’s think about what it’s going to your muscles when you lift weights or do cardio for an extended period of time.  The idea behind these exercises is to place “load” on the muscle, in order to affect change in the muscle.  The more load you add, the more the muscle grows and responds after your workout.

However, this load can also contribute to the “shortening” of the muscle, which leads to the feeling of “tightness” in your body.  A chronically shortened muscle can impact the surrounding joint, including parts of the spine. This shortening, in turn, can cause injury as this joint (or portion of the spine) takes on excessive load repeatedly.

Let’s use the example of pushups.  When an exercise class demands multiple pushups, it’s wonderful for strengthening the chest/shoulders/triceps.  However if the chest muscles begin to shorten over time (without the proper counteractive stretching), it can bring the shoulder joint forward into a compromised position.  This is not ideal.  Now it’s time to lift some weights over your head using your compromised shoulder joint.  BOOM!  Suddenly you feel pain and pinching in your shoulders that you’ve never felt before.

Some areas of the body are more susceptible to this than others.  This issue is a very common contributor to overuse injuries that occur as a result of exercise classes.  To combat this, it’s important to stretch these muscles in order to maintain proper posture and alignment, and to maximize the long term health of your joints and spine.

Here are 3 stretches you can do DAILY that will help to counteract negative effects from your exercises classes:

Chest Stretch on the Roller

chest-stretch-on-rollerAs mentioned above, the chest muscles are used frequently in exercises such as pushups.  The chest also gets tight from sitting at your computer all day long.  This stretch feels AMAZING, and it can instantly change the way you stand by helping you to pull your shoulders back.

  1.  Lie face up with the foam roller along the spine.  Open the arms out to the side forming a “T” position.  Let the arms relax on the floor.
  2. Make sure the ribcage is pulling down towards the roller. Bring the arms higher than a “T” and into a “Y” for increased stretch.
  3.  Hold for 1 minute.

Side Lying Quad Stretch

side-quad-stretchYou’ve probably seen this stretch done standing up.  I have my reasons for teaching it while lying on your side:  it takes “balancing” out of the equation, it’s easier to push your hips into alignment, and it’s easier to grab your foot behind you if you are tight.

However, if standing works better for you, as long as you follow the alignment cues below, please feel free to do it while standing!

The reason this stretch made the list is because the quadriceps tend to get used frequently.  They are the focus while doing squats, lunges, running, biking, “Zumba-ing”, and most other activities.  They also get tight from sitting, which we all do far too much!

  1.  Lie on your side with your head, hips, knees and ankles in a straight line. Your bottom arm should be below your head. If your head needs support, place a pillow beneath your head.
  2.  Bend the top leg so your foot is now behind the glute. Next, grab your foot with the hand of your top arm.   If this is too difficult, use a band or towel for support.
  3.  Push the hips FORWARD and pull the knee BACKWARDS so it’s in line with the bottom knee.  Tuck the pelvis under to get even more of a stretch.
  4.  Hold for 1 minute.

Calf Drop Hold

calf-drop-holdMany people don’t think about the calves, but they are at the BASE of our body and are critical to any leg movement.  They get tight from constant exercise, which is exacerbated by wearing heels and other inappropriate shoes! This next stretch is incredible for stretching out the calves, and, if held long enough, it can actually align the hips!  Gravity helps with this amazing stretch that will feel good for your whole backside.

  1. Stand with good posture and a neutral pelvis with the heels dropped off the back side of a stair. Be sure to leaning back slightly so the hips are over the feet. Also be sure to keep your feet in a parallel position.
  2.  Engage your quads while you hold the position, and think about squeezing the shoulder blades together while you lean back. The upper body posture here is quite important.
  3. Feel the stretch in your calves.
  4.  Hold for 3 minutes.

Doing these stretches will take you LESS than 5 minutes a day. The long term benefits to your joints will last much longer!  You can do these stretches immediately after you exercise, and even multiple times throughout the day when you have a moment.  It’s a wonderful way to reward yourself after you’ve completed your workout.  Now, you are done!

headshot-2015-editedZeena Dhalla is a Certified Posture Specialist and self-proclaimed posture GEEK.  She specializes in helping people feel less pain and look leaner though home based exercise and stretch routines.  Download her 5 Minute Solution to Hunchback Posture if you want to improve your posture and knock out that nagging back pain!

You can find Zeena on her site VerticAlign, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

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