Waking up feeling stiff in your muscles and joints is fairly common. While it might be tempting to try some static stretches to loosen things up, experts say that stretching first thing in the morning may do more harm than good.
When we lie down at night to sleep, our spines are decompressed, so the intervertebral discs collect water, explains back expert Stuart McGill, PhD, of the Spine Biomechanics Laboratory at Canada’s University of Waterloo. This increased hydration builds tension within the discs and makes the spine stiff. Once we get up and move around, the discs slowly return to normal.
“So you need to be careful not to do too much bending and rotating the first 30 minutes upon waking,” warns Tony Gentilcore, strength coach and cofounder of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Mass.
To help mitigate morning-movement woes, he prefers a few dynamic mobility drills. “This not only addresses flexibility deficits, but also gets the blood moving while engaging the nervous system,” he says.
The midback and hips often need the most mobility work. Here are two drills that target those areas.
- Get down on all fours with your palms flat on the floor. Your knees should be hip-width apart and bent 90 degrees.
- Now gently lift your head by curving down your lower back (like a cow); hold for a second.
- Slowly lower your head between your shoulders, raising your upper back toward the ceiling by letting it round (like a cat). That’s one repetition.
- Repeat 10 times.
Air Squat to Prayer Squat Drill
- Stand with your feet at hip width, toes pointed slightly outward, and arms by your sides.
- Bend your knees and push your butt back as if you were sitting into a chair. Keep your weight in your heels and descend until your thighs are parallel to the ground or lower.
- Squeeze your glutes and straighten your legs to come back up.
- After the 10th rep, stay in the bottom position, bring your elbows inside the knees, and bring your hands together.
- Gently press through the elbows against the insides of the legs to open up the hips. Remain in this pose for 30 seconds.
Illustrations by Kveta