Stretch 'n' Flex

Colleen Cahill imageColleen Cahill  •  

IMG 4795

According to OSHA, we should all be stretching 10 minutes a day to prevent injury and reduce fatigue. They suggest stretching during the onsite safety meeting. Unfortunately, OSHA’s Stretch and Flex poster leaves something to be desired — namely, actual construction professionals wearing actual PPE and having to do these stretches in unusual environments. That’s why I’ve put together a better, more realistic stretch ‘n’ flex guide. It draws on my experience in the field as well as my training as a yoga instructor. Enjoy!

Download the Stretch ‘n’ Flex poster!

Cactus Arms

Why: This chest opener stretches the entire upper body — the muscles between the chest and the shoulders as well as the area between the shoulder blades. IMG 4756

  1. Raise your arms to shoulder height, bending your elbows at 90-degree angles and facing palms forward. Reach your elbows behind you, like you’re trying to pinch a pencil between your shoulder blades. (You’ll look like a cactus, hence the name.) Inhale.
  2. Keeping your arms raised, lower your chin to your chest and bring your forearms together in front of you as you exhale.
  3. Return your arms to their original position as you inhale.
  4. Repeat 5 times

Avoid: Dropping your head back (looking up) on the inhale as this may strain your neck.

Side Stretches

Why: Stretching the sides of your body is the key to avoiding and relieving lower-back pain. IMG 4752

  1. Stand with feet shoulder-length apart. Lift your left arm straight above you, keeping your right arm relaxed.
  2. Bend at your waist towards your right, reaching up and to the right with your left arm as far as is comfortable.
  3. Hold the position as you inhale and exhale for three deep breaths.
  4. Return to a neutral stance.
  5. Switch sides, reaching up with your left arm and bending towards your right side.
  6. Repeat three times, switching sides each time.

Avoid: Dumping all of your weight into one side of your body. Press your feet evenly into the floor to keep your weight evenly distributed.

Top Archer Arm

Why: This stretches the latissimus dorsi which rarely get much love, leaving you prone to rotator cuff injuries. IMG 4769

  1. With your feet shoulder-length apart, reach your left arm up. Bend your left elbow and reach your left hand toward your upper-back.
  2. Reach your right arm up and place your right hand on your left elbow. Very gently push your left arm down to reach father down your back.
  3. Bend at your waist to the right, stretching your left side.
  4. Hold for ten deep breaths.
  5. Switch sides, reaching your right arm up and gently pushing it down with your left hand as you bend towards your left side.

Avoid: Dropping your chin to your chest. Instead, move your head back towards your forearm.

Shoulder Opener with Wall Assist

Why: This opens the muscles between the chest and shoulders which get tight from hunching over handheld devices (i.e., phones and tablets). IMG 4761

  1. Stand facing a wall.
  2. Extend your left arm out and to the side, palm flat against the wall.
  3. Slowly walk your feet back a few inches, pivoting at your shoulder, until you start to feel a stretch in your upper chest and shoulder.
  4. Hold for ten deep breaths.
  5. Switch sides and repeat.

Avoid: Having your arms either above or below horizontal.

Twists against the Wall

Why: This increases the range of motion for the spine and helps improve digestion. IMG 4778

  1. Stand with your side to the wall, leaving a six-inch gap between you and the wall.
  2. Firmly plant your feet.
  3. Twist your upper body forward and to the side, towards the wall.
  4. Place both your palms on the wall, using arm strength to gently twist more deeply.
  5. Hold for five deep breaths, standing taller as you inhale and twisting more deeply as you exhale.

Avoid: Twisting from your hips — keep them aligned with your feet.

Puppy on Wall

Why: This opens the chest and reverses effects of hunching over handheld devices. IMG 4785

  1. Place your palms on the wall at shoulder height, fingers pointing up.
  2. Keeping your hands on the wall, walk a few steps backwards. Drop your chest.
  3. Keep feet firmly planted and allow your chest and upper back to open.
  4. Hold for four deep breaths.

Avoid: Holding your breath!

Standing Quad Stretch

Why: This stretches the quads and hip flexors for better range-of-motion. IMG 4793

  1. Shift your weight into your right foot as you place your right hand on a wall to steady yourself.
  2. Bend your left leg and grab your left foot with your left hand.
  3. Hug your left foot in towards your butt while pressing your hips forward.
  4. Hold for six deep breaths.

Avoid: Dropping your chest or hinging forward at your hips.

Forward Fold

Why: This releases tension from the lower back and stretches the hamstrings which, when tight, can result in back and hip pain. IMG 4790

  1. With a slight bend in your knees, reach your arms towards the floor.
  2. Deepen the bend by further bending at the knees until your stomach touches your thighs.
  3. Hold your opposite elbows with your hands.
  4. Shift your weight into the balls of your feet.
  5. Hold for ten deep breaths.

Avoid: Rounding your lower back or keeping your weight in your heels.

Viparita Karani

Why: This reverses the effects of gravity, increases blood flow, and relieves leg cramps and fatigue. IMG 4808

Do this stretch at home after you’ve left work.

  1. Sit next to a wall so your hip is touching the wall.
  2. Rotate your hips so that your legs extend up the wall with your back flat on the floor.
  3. Extend your arms out to form a ‘T’ with your upper body. Relax them so they are lying on the floor.
  4. If you have tight hamstrings, inch your hips away from the wall and bend your knees to relieve pressure.
  5. Relax in this position for 10-15 minutes.

Avoid: Doing or thinking. Instead, allow your body to relax as you slow down, unwind, and breathe.

Download the Stretch 'n' Flex poster!

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