4 Stretches You Should Be Doing (But Aren't)
Is your back in pain? There's a good chance your back isn't really to blame. The root cause of everyday aches is often a simple case of inflexibility. Try the stretches on the next pages from David Reavy, founder of React Physical Therapy in Chicago, who has worked with elite athletes including NFL player Matt Forte and Swin Cash of the WNBA. Do them pre- or post-workout, or whenever you need loosening up. Start with a daily dose, then switch to one to three times a week to maintain your motion gains. Add in the suggested strength moves to help keep your body balanced and pain-free.
For pain in your knees
Blame this: Tight feet or ankles
You probably don't think about the muscles in your feet all that much, but truth be told, they are constantly working hard for you. Tightness in the feet or ankles can be felt everywhere—but especially in the knees, which take on much of the pounding from what's happening directly below them.
Feel-better move: Plantar fascia stretch
Kneel with your toes tucked, placing your weight on the balls of both feet. Slowly lower your upper body until you're sitting on your heels. Place your hands on the tops of your thighs and lean back. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds.
To get your knees back in top form, you'll have to work your glutes and quads big time. Try basic body-weight squats, advises Reavy. This tried-and-true exercise will help fix any lower body imbalances you may have.
For pain in your lower back
Blame this: Tight hips
The hip flexors cross eight different joints, says Reavy: "When these muscles are tight, it shuts down the abs and glutes, and if those aren't working at their full strength, you'll feel it in the lower back."
Feel-better move: King cobra stretch
Lie facedown, palms under shoulders and slightly turned out. Slide left leg up toward hips and bend knee; right leg stays extended with toes turned in. Push up until arms are straight. Keeping hips on floor with elbows close to sides, turn head and upper body slightly to the left. Hold for 20 to 45 seconds; switch sides.
To help reduce back pain, do exercises that strengthen your abdominals (such as planks) and hip flexors (think straight-leg raises).
For pain in your shoulders
Blame this: Tight back
That clicking sound may be coming from your shoulders, but they're not the only guilty party. "The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, with the ball of the humerus—upper arm—sitting inside a cavity in the scapula, or shoulder blade," says Reavy. "When your lower trapezius, or midback, muscles are weak, it can alter the mechanics of the ball and socket, causing pain." Tight lat muscles, also in the midback, can exacerbate the problem.
Feel-better move: Lat stretch
Kneel with arms extended forward on top of a stability ball, palms in and thumbs facing the ceiling. Sit back toward heels, pushing chest toward the floor; keep your back flat. Hold for 30 seconds. Move ball to the left, stretching your right lat muscle; hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side, stretching your left lat muscle.
Y-presses will strengthen the lower trapezius, helping keep your back and shoulders in balance and your shoulder joint in position, says Reavy.
For pain in your neck
Blame this: Tight chest
Even if you don't have a desk job, you likely still spend lots of time sitting in front of a computer, riding in a car or looking at your phone. That constant forward lean causes a tightness in your pec muscles, which run along the front of your chest. "Tight pecs pull you forward, which can create a strain or tightness in the neck," says Reavy.
Feel-better move: Pec stretch
Stand facing a wall with your right arm raised to shoulder height; bring your forearm flush against the wall. Rotate your torso away from your right arm, stretching the front of your chest and right shoulder. Bend sideways at the hip away from the wall. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch sides.
Simple chin tucks build up the muscles along the front of the neck; one-arm rows are also helpful for staving off neck pain.