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Why it pays to stretch before you get out of bed

Even a short routine will positively affect your day, especially if you are managing soft-tissue frustrations, you are living with hip or back stiffness or you are an athlete

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Too many of us wake up feeling stiff and achy.

When you think about it, stiffness makes sense. Perhaps you did not stretch appropriately postworkout. More likely, you went directly to bed after sitting all day (at the office, in the car, on the sofa, etc). Prebedtime stiffness is compounded by the negative effects of relative immobility all night; when the body is at rest, circulation decreases and synovial fluid (the joint-lubricating substance that is made when you move) is not produced. Plus, you are probably slightly dehydrated. The combined result: chronic sluggishness and aching.

The solution? Stretch before you get out of bed.

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The minimal investment of time is worth it. Even a short routine will positively affect your day, especially if you are managing soft-tissue frustrations such as plantar fasciitis, you are living with hip or back stiffness or you are an athlete and chronically sore and in need of additional modes of recovery.

The program does not have to be long; it just has to be consistent and tailored to your time realities, injury history and goals.

For a full-body "wake-up" in one minute or less:

A. Rise and shine. Start on your back, legs straight and arms by your ears. Extend your arms and reach your fingers long as you pull your toes toward you. Breathe. Then, hug yourself as you point your toes (your legs are still straight). Breathe through your diaphragm and alternate these two exercises for 30 seconds to one minute.

If your lower back and hips are a priority and you have two-three minutes:

B. Single-leg knee hug. On your back with your knees bent and feet on the bed, bring one knee into your chest. Breathe. Hold the knee in as you straighten the opposite leg. Breathe. Bend your knees and repeat on the opposite side. Alternate for roughly 90 seconds.

C. Knee rock. On your back, with knees bent and feet on the bed, gently rock both knees from one side to the other. Make the motion small to start. Increase the range slightly as your body loosens. To increase the stretch, rotate your head in the opposite direction to your knees.

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If your priority is mitigating the negative effects of sitting and you have two-three minutes:

D. Hip stretch. Lie on your right side. Bend your right leg for support. Hug your left knee into your chest for five seconds. Grab your left ankle behind you. Hold as you push your top hip forward and pull your left heel toward your bum.

Engage your core slightly; don't arch your lower back. Concentrate on opening up your front hip by pushing your pelvis forward rather than getting the foot to your bum.

E. Spine twist. Stay on your right side with your left hand at your temple. Keeping your pelvis stable, rotate your chest slightly backward. Think about your spine moving, not your elbow. Repeat both on the other side.

If you have three minutes and are managing lower leg cramps or plantar fasciitis:

F. Hamstring stretch. Have a towel, belt or strap beside the bed. Lie on your back with your left leg bent.

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Loop the towel around your right foot. Straighten your right leg. Hold for 10-30 seconds.

G. Tick tock. Keep the strap around your right foot. Keep your pelvis stable as you bring your right leg slightly back and forth horizontally across your body.

H. Ankle rotations. Finish by releasing the towel and rotating your right ankle 10 times.

Do all three exercises on the left leg.

For a general full-body stretch in five minutes:

B+G+D+E+A (in that order).

If you have eight minutes, do the full routine.

A+B+C+D+E+F+G+H+A

If you are fortunate enough to wake up relatively ache free, lucky you; but that doesn't mean you should disregard the benefits of a morning stretch. Moving always positively affects both body and brain. I stretch every morning, not to release tight muscles, but to improve my mood and decrease mental sluggishness. My focus as I move is on controlling my thoughts and breathing with purpose; I use the time to reflect on my day and establish the strategies I will employ. It is calming to have a moment just for me.

When it comes to the body, "awareness brings choice." You can't tailor a routine to your unique needs if you are not aware of your needs. Become aware of your body so you can choose how best to manage it. For two weeks, note how you feel in relation to variables such as hours of sleep, sleep position and the amount of exercise completed. Use that data to create an appropriate stretching routine.

Instead of being frustrated and disheartened by aches and pains, think of kinesthetic feelings as "information:" Motivational "feed-forward" commentary from your body instructing you on how best to move and behave. If you are stiff, your body is telling you that you need to move more, sit less and stretch daily. So listen.

Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer, Pilates equipment specialist and author of Finding Your Fit. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @KTrotterFitness.

Video: Fitness Basics: Stiff neck and back? Three tips to help loosen you up (Globe and Mail Update)
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