Instinctive as it may be to stretch, lengthening muscles and mobilizing joints is often an afterthought, even for regular exercisers.
But some form of stretching and mobility work is essential to good health. “You’re putting a little WD-40 in your joints and moving them around,” says New York City–based Sonja Herbert, founder of Black Girl Pilates. “You’re increasing circulation and bringing life back into your whole body — your head, your shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, feet, toes.”
A dedicated mobility practice can feel great while you’re doing it and for some time afterward. In the long run, it can help preserve healthy ranges of motion for life. As Herbert puts it, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Stretching is also an anywhere, anytime activity, requiring minimal equipment and no warm-up. You don’t need a lot of space. It probably won’t make you sweaty, and you can do it in tiny increments throughout your day. It may be the simplest, most accessible type of movement there is.
Herbert shares the following full-body mobility routine to help you stretch out and loosen up in as little as five minutes. Try it once a week or every day, as time allows.
The Listening Ear and the Soup Head
- Sit upright, shoulders relaxed.
- Without bending your neck, slowly rotate your head to the right, as if listening for something with your right ear.
- Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side.
- Perform the sequence five times per side.
- Keeping your torso upright, drop your chin to your chest.
- Imagining a spoon extending forward from your nose, and a cup of coffee directly beneath it, slowly stir the coffee with the spoon in a clockwise direction, 10 times.
- Stir in the opposite direction 10 more times.
Kneeling Hip Hinge
- Begin in a tall kneeling position, then extend one leg in front of you with the heel on the floor and your front foot flexed.
- Place your hands on the floor and shift your hips back, allowing your torso to fold forward toward your extended leg.
- Then bend your front knee and shift your hips forward, raising your upper body to come into a low lunge position. Allow the front knee to track over the front foot.
- Move back and forth, shifting the hips back while straightening the front leg then bending the front knee to shift the hips forward, to complete eight to 10 slow, controlled repetitions, keeping your hips and shoulders square the whole time.
- Switch sides and repeat.
- Sit on the floor with your back straight, legs extended forward and slightly wider than hip width, and feet flexed.
- Inhale as you raise your arms out to the sides, slightly in front of your shoulders.
- Exhale as you rotate your torso to the right, then dive forward to reach your left pinkie finger toward the pinkie-edge of your right foot while reaching behind you with your right hand.
- Inhale as you return to the starting position, spine tall.
- Repeat on the other side. Perform a total of five slow reps per side.
Bent-Knee Calf Raise
- Stand with your legs and feet together, using a wall or railing for balance.
- Slowly raise your heels, coming onto your toes.
- Keeping your hips still and heels raised, slowly bend your knees. As your knees track forward, actively press forward through the arches of your feet. Lower as far as you can without your shoulders shifting forward, you butt shifting back, or your heels lowering.
- Slowly lower your heels to the floor and return to an upright standing posture.
- Repeat the sequence for 10 reps.
- While keeping your feet flat on the floor and your hips stationary, slowly bend your knees to shift them forward.
- Maintaining that knee-bend, and keeping your shoulders stacked over your hips, rise onto your toes and lift your heels, pressing your arches forward.
- Staying on your toes, straighten your legs to an upright posture. Then slowly lower your heels to the floor. Repeat for 10 reps.
This article originally appeared as “Extend Yourself” in the March 2022 issue of Experience Life.