You know that phrase, “Do what’s most important first thing in the morning”? That doesn’t mean check your email or scroll through Twitter and Instagram. It means perform some morning exercises. Considering the fact your day is mostly going to be spent sitting in front of your screen, the best thing you can do when you open your eyes is get your blood flowing.
That doesn’t mean you need to bang out a whole workout (especially if you’re more of an evening exerciser), but activating certain muscles in the a.m. can decrease your risk of injury when you do hit the gym. What’s more, if you tend to feel tight in your hips and legs or achy in your lower back when you wake up, these moves will help relieve pain and boost flexibility.
Try slowly moving through a few of these morning exercises before you even brush your teeth.
1. Bird Dog
Why you should do it: “Doing this simple exercise first thing in the morning will activate your full body, with a focus on the trunk and erector spinae [muscles and tendons running along your spine], which helps to build better posture,” explains Lesley Bell, a NASM-certified personal trainer based in Santa Monica, CA. It also increases lower-body stabilization throughout your day, making climbing stairs and even just walking feel easier and more efficient.
How to do it: Start on hands and knees. Squeeze glutes, draw stomach in, pull your shoulder blades down, and keep head in line with spine. Holding the position, lift the right arm and left leg so that each is extended straight. Bend your right arm and left leg, bringing right elbow to left knee. Hold for three seconds, then extend and repeat. Do 10 reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Why you should do it: If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you know how good this move feels. “In the morning, this move is a great way to wake up every portion of the spine so it’s prepared for the activities you’ll perform during the day,” says Tim Hampton, a NASM-certified personal trainer at elevate Health & Performance in Philadelphia, PA.
How to do it: Start on hands and knees with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips. Inhale, dropping your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into cow position. Lift your chin and chest and gaze forward. For cat, exhale as you draw your belly button to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling like a cat. Do 10 reps.
3. Y Hold Into Handcuff Position
Why you should do it: “Most guys suffer from tight, shortened pecs and a weak upper back,” explains Adam Rosante, a trainer in New York City and author of The 30-Second Body. Sound familiar? “This move helps to mobilize the tissues in the front of the body and activate the postural muscles in your upper back,” so you can stand taller all day long.
How to do it: Lie facedown on the ground with arms overhead in a Y position, thumbs up. Squeeze the muscles in your upper back to raise arms and chest off floor. Hold 10–15 seconds, then sweep arms down and behind low back (as if you were being handcuffed). Clasp one hand over the opposite wrist and squeeze shoulder blades together for 1 second. That’s 1 rep. Do 3–5 reps, alternating hand clasp.
4. Glute Bridge
Why you should do it: Thanks to today’s prevalence of desk jobs, “the majority of people have a weak posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, and lower back),” says Bell. “Activating these muscles right away can help prevent common ailments like low back pain, hamstring pulls, and bad posture—plus, it’ll help open up tight hip flexors from sitting all day.”
How to do it: Start by lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the ground about shoulder-width apart near your butt. Push the heels down into the ground while raising the hips off the ground. At the top, squeeze glutes and keep the abdominals tight to prevent arching in the lower back. Make sure the shins are vertical, then lower your hips back down to their original position. Do 20 reps.
Why you should do it: Your core is literally responsible for keeping you upright all day. So in the same way mobilizing your spine preps your body for movement, activating your core first thing in the morning can help reduce pain and injury from daily activities, says Hampton.
How to do it: Start by lying on your back with hips and knees bent at 90 degrees. Raise your arms to the ceiling. Brace your abs and flatten your lower back into the floor. Reach one hand behind your head while extending the opposite leg, letting it hover just above the floor. Reverse the motion and repeat on the opposite side. Do 10 reps on each side.
6. Quadruped Rotation
Why you should do it: “This is a really simple move to open up your thoracic spine,” says Rosante. That’s especially important for improving posture, reducing pain, and negating some of the effects of sitting at a desk all day.
How to do it: Start on hands and knees with hands directly below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips, spine in a neutral position. Lightly place one hand on the upper back or back of the neck and begin to rotate as far as possible toward the hand on the floor. Reverse, rotating upwards as far as possible. Return to center. Do 5 reps on each side.
Why you should do it: If you’re doing it right, a plank is a total-body move. “Holding this position will activate all of your core muscles that are essential for a strong posture,” says Bell. “This, in turn, will help take pressure off your spine and hips throughout the day.”
How to do it: Start on hands and knees. Place your hands directly under your shoulders and step your feet back. Maintain a straight line from heels through the top of your head, looking down at the floor, with gaze slightly in front of your face. Squeeze your abs, quads, and glutes. Hold for at least a full minute.
8. Reverse Lunge With Torso Twist
Why you should do it: Tight hips and ankles are another common problem area, says Rosante. “This lunge variation helps to mobilize both while also waking up the body’s rotational movement pattern,” he explains. “The overall intention is to mobilize and activate, setting your body up for a day of better movement.”
How to do it: From standing, step back into a reverse lunge until your knee almost touches the floor. At the bottom, reach arms to the sky and twist your torso toward front leg. Return to center before driving through the heel to push back to stand. Repeat on the opposite side. Do 5 reps on each side.
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