Micro-stretches: How to increase flexibility and maximize muscle regeneration
Micro stretches are a subtle but powerful practice that can lead to massive benefits long term. Not only are they easy to do, but they can also unlock stiff joints and muscular imbalances which dramatically assists overall flexibility, creating a broader range of motion which benefits our overall posture.
Contrary to popular belief, both low and high-intensity workouts are great for our joints. Especially in conjunction with micro stretches and dynamic stretching. Performing daily flexibility and strength training helps to loosen and stabilize your joints preventing issues like arthritis.
For athletes, a seconds difference in performance could be vital for success. The same goes for people with more stationary lives like office workers or truck drivers - these small and easy exercises could mean a world of difference to your joints and overall body as you age.
We all want to grow old pain-free right? Now is the best time to prevent that!
So what are micro exercises?
Micro exercises, also known as micro stretches were developed for high-performance athlete to use as a method for cooling down. Performing these exercises after training helped to increase their range of motion, joint flexibility and assisted with injury and inflammation resulting from training.
What are Dynamic Exercises?
Dynamic exercises are a similar practice but are generally used as a warm-up. They involve exercises that use functional movements that use a body’s momentum to go through a joints full range of motion. These exercises are performed in multiple repetitions with a generally slow and controlled nature. Examples of dynamic exercises include squats, lunges, push-ups, leg swings, side lunges and star jumps. Performing both dynamic exercises and micro exercises together yields the most benefits.
What’s the difference between warming up and cooling down?
Performing warm-up exercises that activate our cardiovascular system and get blood pumping is vital for optimal performance, if used correctly it may also help to prevent injury and muscle fatigue. A cool down can include slowly decreasing the pace of a workout to a lower intensity, followed by micro stretches. Cooling down also helps to prevent dizziness and balance your blood pressure.
Performing micro exercises after cooling down helps the muscles and cardiovascular system to slowly come back to a resting state. When you perform micro exercises in conjunction with a cool down, your muscles respond optimally to the stimulation of stretching, improving your potential for an increase in flexibility and joint mobility.
Everyday practice and balance is the key to success.
It is vital that we move our bodies every day for long term longevity and vitality. If we cannot manage a workout or moderate exercise, we should at the very least perform a combination of dynamic and micro stretches to keep our muscles, joints, and ligaments in check and support recovery from illness or injury.
Here are a few things to keep in mind before you start.
It is essential that we do not overstretch, as that can create an imbalance in our overall muscular system resulting in injury or postural imbalances. These exercises should be done with control, caution and mindful awareness. The general rule of thumb is to always stretch within the bounds of comfort. If you start to feel any pain, then you are likely overstretching; however the same goes for too much comfortable stretching, resulting in hyper flexibility - you need to create a delicate balance between stretching, strengthening and resting.
Here are 10 Micro Exercises to Perform Every day.
*The best time to perform these micro exercises to gain the most benefits, is half an hour after intense exercise and a cool down. Or for those who are injured, unfit or ill - directly after some dynamic exercises or anything that gets your blood moving, like a brisk walk*
These exercises can be performed in any order; however, when we work our way from one end of our bodies to the other, it is much easier to keep track. Each exercise should be accompanied with a counter position - for example, if we stretch our fingers out we should then bring it into a ball, or if we bend forward, we should then stretch back as well.
These form of inverted exercises release the stretched muscles and moves into a position that activates the opposing muscles, which creates a smooth balance throughout the complex system of muscles used in a particular area. In turn, this benefits the overall posture. We should always remember to practice equally on the opposite side too!
*If you have any recent injuries, such as a knee injury, broken bone or whiplash, allow it to rest and heal while you focus on other unaffected joints. Typical recovery time is 7 weeks, depending on the severity of the issue. Be sure to consult with your doctor before starting a new routine or exercise*
Begin in a sitting position.
1. Micro Toe Stretch
2. Micro Ankle Stretch
Move your focus towards your ankles, point the foot for about 5 seconds then release and move into an “activated position” - bringing your foot back upwards, as far as comfortably possible. Perform this three times on each foot. Then roll your ankle around clockwise then anticlockwise. Creating circles in the air with your toes. Perform this three times in each direction on both feet.
3. Micro Knee Stretch
Next, we will move up to the knees. Place your hands behind you for support and bend your knees, lift one knee slightly off the floor and start making circles with your leg from the knee down, this will warm up your knee joints. Repeat on each side three times, both anticlockwise and clockwise.
4. Hip Joint Micro Warm Up
Come to a comfortable sitting position and pick up one leg, placing the knee near your inner elbow and your foot in the palm of your hand, cradling the shin. We then aim to create circles with our knees, activating from our hip joints. Using our arm to assist the bent leg. Moving both clockwise and anticlockwise. For less flexible people, you can bend your leg with the other on the floor and create small circular motions with the knee that activate the hip joint - as long as there is movement, you are warming the joint and muscles up and slowly building more flexibility over time.
5. Micro Hip Stretch
Come to a standing position, slightly wider than your normal stance with slightly bent legs. Place your hands on your hips and perform circular movements with your hips - it should be a similar motion to hula-hooping. Perform 5 times clockwise and 5 times anti-clockwise. Additionally, you can also place your fists on your back dimples, just above the buttocks, and move your pelvis slightly forward as you look upwards, this activates and stretches your front body, then release back to standing, and roll your head down, followed by your shoulders, then very slowly let your upper body drop as if you were reaching to touch the ground, feeling each vertebra slowly release. Once you feel resistance in your legs, let your knees bend naturally, then ever so slowly roll back up. Once you are standing again, bring both arms together above your head and interlock your fingers. Lean to the left activating your side body, feeling your lats open and stretch, then repeat on the right. This a great for both stretching and strengthening, supporting a balanced and healthy posture.
6. Micro Shoulder Stretch
Can you guess were we are moving your foucs now? The shoulders! So to start, lift your arms out from the side, in a straight line, then create big circular motions - 5 times forward and 5 times backwards. Then bring your arms down to your sides, and open your chest up bringing your shoulders back, and your shoulder blades as close together as possible. Then curl your shoulders inwards, and pretend to hug yourself, reaching towards your shoulder blades, collapsing your chest and stretching your upper middle back. This is also a great stretch for sore and stiff upper backs. Repeat the movement 5 times, opening your chest up then opening your back up.
7. Micro Elbow Joint Stretch
Place your arms down to your sides and lift your hands up like you are handing someone a book, isolating the movement from the shoulders to the elbows, begin to make circular motions with your extended arms, activating the elbow joints and drawing circles in the air. Perform 5 times clockwise then 5 times anticlockwise.
8. Micro Wrist and Hand Stretch
Similar to the ankle exercises - to warm up our wrists, we use one hand to activate the other hand, placing the opposite hand on the palm of the other hand, bringing it as far back as comfortably possible. You should feel a light stretch under your wrist. Then go in the opposite direction, bringing your flat hand as far down as comfortable possible, placing your other hand on the outside of the palm. This should create a light stretch on top of the wrist. Repeat this five times on each hand. Then roll the wrist joint in circular motions, creating circles with your hand, 5 times in each direction. Then move to your fingers, just like the toes, you spread your fingers apart, fully activating them all, then scrunch your hand up into a fist. Repeat 4 - 5 times.
9. Micro Neck Warm Up and Stretch
Next, we move onto the head and neck - this requires very slow, careful and delicate movements as it is a very sensitive area. Begin by looking left and right, then up and down - repeat this a few times to warm up. Then come back to the center, looking forward, and slowly lower your head to the left - so that your ear is coming close to your shoulder. You should feel a nice stretch through on the other side of your neck - after about 5 seconds, rotate your head so that you are looking at your shoulder, repeat this about 2- 3 times. As you do this you should feel a ripple like effect of the different muscles activating in your neck. Some will feel tighter then others, often due to poor posture or lifestyle, these areas need more time to stretch, so you should linger for longer - but always and only if it is comfortable! Listen to the signals of your body. Once you have completed one side, slowly release your neck muscles and roll gently to the other side, briefly stopping in the middle to let your chin come close to your chest, stretching the back of your neck. Repeat the same movement on the other side.
10. Micro Spine Warm and Stretch.
*Our spine is one of the most intricate and health defining aspects of our musculoskeletal system, a healthy spine often equals a happy posture. However, it is typically one of the most easily damaged and often overlooked areas of our body. Good posture is vital for a healthy spine. We often develop bad posture in our lifestyle - slouching in chairs, picking up heavy objects without proper lifting technique, or having a heavy side bag - it all strains our backs, and over time, gives us imbalanced muscles and often back pain and other issues as we grow older. So one of the best techniques for the spine is to pay attention to how it feels and how we treat it! *
A healthy way to stretch our spine is to perform the cat-cow pose. To perform the cat-cow pose, you come down to all fours, with your knees and hands shoulder and hip-width apart. Breath in as you look upwards, opening your chest, lowering your stomach to the floor and lifting your buttocks upwards. Then breath out, curling your buttocks downwards, pushing your chest away from the ground, creating an arch in the spine, as you slowly let your head drop, resting your chin on your chest. Repeat this movement three to four times, in a slow, gentle nature.
Once completed, if you feel like your spine is warmed up, you can try a fun but invigorating exercise. Imagine your spine is a snake slithering on the ground - slowly sway your hips side to side while still on fours, allow the movement to ripple up to your shoulders so that your whole spine moves like a snake. Then reverse it, starting from your shoulders, slowly moving them in circular motions that feel similar to drawing 8’s with each shoulder. Allowing the movement to ripple down to your hips.
Equally, you can perform a spine roll. Starting from a standing position, slowly roll your head down until your chin touches your chest, slowly start to let your background as you start moving towards the ground, feel each vertebrae slowly start to open as you stretch forward reaching for the ground, Once you start to feel a resistance in your knees, allow them to bend a little until you are as far down as you can go comfortably. Then roll back up, making sure you feel every movement and stretch.
After you complete these exercises, check in with how your body feels. Nice and warm right?
These are very simple but effective micro exercises that help prevent long-term stagnation and deterioration of joints, most of these exercises you can perform almost anywhere - at work, on the bus, at the park or at home. All that matters is that you keep up a daily practice - to get the most out of the benefits as you can!