AUGUST – GETTING MOBILE!

Greetings all! I have a confession! Recently I haven’t been following my own advice! As a result I have noticed I have been becoming steadily less mobile and flexible. So I’ve put together a series of exercises which I am now doing daily. I don’t think I’m so different to others, so this may be a routine you’d like to get into, or try for a change?

People who exercise often may find these exercises simple to perform, they are simple yet effective if practiced regularly. I have tried to target areas that I know cause problems readily. Let me know how you get on! (info@rivermeadosteopaths.co.uk).

These exercises shouldn’t cause pain, if you experience a problem, stop the exercise and consult your Osteopath or other medical practitioner. If you have an existing complaint, it would be wise to consult your practitioner to check these exercises are appropriate for you.

CAT STRETCH

This opens out the joints of the spine, and stretches some of the adjacent muscles and soft tissues. Start on your hands and knees, hands under shoulders, and knees under hips. Try and start from a neutral position in the lower back and pelvis (so not too arched through the lower back, but equally not too tucked.) Have a straight neck, with your gaze to the floor.
Begin by tucking your pelvis under, and then continuing the movement up through your lower back, then to your upper back, and then to your neck. So you are arching up like an ‘angry cat’. 
Then to return to the start position. Bring your pelvis back to neutral, followed by your lower back, then upper back, and finally your neck.
Repeat 5 times.


UPPER BACK

We all have a tendency to slump and round our shoulders. In this way, the upper back can become over- strained and restricted. It is naturally a less mobile area, and so can more readily stiffen up. Here are a couple of exercises to try and stay more mobile here.

1. Roll up a towel into a ‘flat-sausage’ shape! Lay on your back with your knees bent, but place the ‘flat sausage’ underneath your shoulder blade area. Have a small pillow to support your head if you wish as your neck will tend to drop back a little. Rest in this position for 2 minutes. Just think about relaxed breathing, in through your nose and out through your mouth during this exercise.


2. Sitting on a chair with your bottom to the back of the seat, and your lower back supported. Gently clasp your hands behind your head and neck. Be careful to keep this hold gentle, and not to drag your head forward. Then, bring your elbows together in front of you, or as close as you feel comfortable. Draw a number 8 laying on it’s side (or an infinity sign) with the points of your elbows. This can take a few moments to master, when you have, continue the exercise for 1 minute. Be sure to sit back into the chair. In this way, we can block out the movement in your lower back as much as possible, so it can be focused in the upper back.


PECS STRETCH

With the slumped position we mentioned above, the pec muscles across our chest tend to shorten. If this happens over a long period of time, then it will make ideal posture very difficult. As these muscles attach to our ribs, it may then have a detrimental effect on our breathing patterns. Here are a couple of options to keep these muscles long, and the chest open.

1. Place your left palm and your forearm against a door frame, have your body level with the door frame, and your elbow level with your shoulder. Step forward with your left foot, whilst maintaining the contact of your forearm/palm with the door frame. You should feel a stretch across the front of your shoulder. Depending on how flexible you are, you may need to step forward further to feel the the stretch. Try and keep your body facing forward when you perform this for the best results. Hold for a slow count of 30, then turn around and repeat on the other side.


2. Nice and simple, you can do this sitting or standing, and almost anywhere if you want to! Bring your arms up to shoulder height on either side of you. Palms facing forward, thumbs up to the ceiling. Then extend your arms backwards to feel a stretch across the front of your chest. Hold for a slow count of 20 to 30.



CORE MUSCLES

Its important to work on your core muscles to support your spine, and to help support your body for good posture. To find your core muscles, think ‘zip up and hollow’. So ‘zip up’ means pulling up your pelvic floor (so as if you were trying to stop yourself having a wee). ‘Hollow’ refers to pulling your navel back to your spine. You should try and get used to engaging these muscles on a daily basis, and especially if you are challenging your back more e.g. lifting objects. Think about this contraction and try and use it as you perform these core exercises.

1. The plank. Start on all-fours. Let your forearms and elbows rest on the floor, clasp your hands together if you prefer. If your used to working your core muscles then perhaps go straight for this version, or give it a go and see how you get on. With a straight body, so legs straight out, rest on your extended toes. Use your core muscles to maintain your position, practice holding for a little longer each time you give it a go.
If this feels too difficult, still have your legs extended behind you, but rest on your knees instead of your toes. Build up your strength and then try the other version.


2. ‘Dead-bug’. Another core muscle exercise. Lay on your back, have your arms extended straight up, so your hands are directly above your shoulders. Have your legs raised so the knees are above the hips, and the knees are bent to 90 degrees. The idea is that whilst you are moving in this exercise. You contract the core muscles to maintain the neutral position of your lower back and pelvis.
Start by straightening your right leg away from you, whilst you straighten the left arm down behind you at the same time, then return to the start position, and repeat with the left leg and right arm.
Please note, it is not necessary for the arm or leg to touch the floor. You should take your limbs as far as you can, whilst still being able to maintain the support and position of your lower back and pelvis. The more you do, the easier it will become. 
Start by doing 5 to each side, possibly working up to 10 to 15 as you become more able.



LEG STRETCHES

Stretching your leg muscles, is not only important for the legs themselves. As they have attachments on your pelvis, they also effect your pelvis and lower back position too.

Hamstrings. Here are two ways to stretch your hamstrings:
1. Lay on your back with your knees bent (have a small cushion under your head for support). If you have some elastic exercise band use this, or something like a dressing gown cord. Place the mid length of whatever your using under the sole of your foot. Hold onto the two free ends next to your body. Straighten your leg to feel a stretch in your hamstrings (back of thigh) and calf muscles. Think about pushing your heel to the ceiling, and pulling your ‘sit-bone’ down to the floor for a maximum stretch. Try and hold for a count of 30, then repeat on the other side.


2. Another option is from standing. Keeping a straight leg, place your heel on a chair, or maybe a step. Try  and pull your toes back towards you body, and lean forwards to feel a stretch in the hamstrings and calf muscles once more. It is important to try not to slump forward as you do this exercise. Try and rise up out of your pelvis and then travel forward to achieve the stretch. Its unlikely you will travel as far as if you slumped, but it is better for your lower back. Hold for a count of 30, and repeat on the other side.



Quadriceps. Finally think about stretching the front of your thigh and hip. Standing (near a wall for support if necessary), with your hand bring and hold your heel up to your bottom. If you tuck your pelvis under, you will feel more of a stretch at the front of the hip. Hold for a count of 30 on both sides.



I hope you enjoy feeling more flexible this summer?!