Wellness

4 Stretches to Relieve Fascia Tightness after Sitting All Day

4 Stretches to Relieve Fascia Tightness after Sitting All Day

4 Stretches to Relieve Fascia Tightness
after Sitting All Day

These are not your typical touch-your-toes stretches. According to Sita Hagenburg and John Kelly, cofounders and flexibility trainers at Bendable Body, basic stretching produces an increased range of motion, but it does nothing for true flexibility. The difference: Range of motion is just a muscle’s ability to elongate. Flexibility allows you to move optimally in all directions, including contraction and torsion and lengthening. The key to flexibility, Hagenburg says, is engaging the fascia. Having tried this at Bendable Body’s new online studio, we can tell you: It feels really, really good.

A Q&A with Sita Hagenburg and John Kelly

Q
What does fascia have to do with flexibility?
A

Range of motion is the typical way people define flexibility. It’s a muscle getting long or producing a stretched-out pose, like the splits or touching your toes. When people can do that, they’re usually defined as flexible. But what’s often really happening is that they’re producing that range of motion in their joints, rather than in the muscles, and the necessary muscles aren’t doing anything at all. This can lead to injury.

The true definition of flexibility is a muscle’s ability to make all possible movements—not just get long. It’s the ability of a muscle to work optimally and do its job to move your body around. Muscles are designed to lengthen, shorten, twist, and turn. When all of your muscles make all of these movements, you are both flexible and strong.

The factor usually limiting the muscles from doing all that is the fascia. It binds the muscles and prevents both strength and flexibility when it becomes dense. We find the bigger issue is when a muscle won’t shorten, as opposed to when it won’t lengthen. Strength, explosiveness, and ease of movement originate from a muscle shortening to its maximum and then lengthening with power as you move. When a muscle doesn’t shorten, you become stiff, inflexible, and weak.


Q
How does your stretching technique work through fascia stiffness?
A

The Bendable Body Method stretches the fascia with resistance and tension, allowing the tissue to regenerate and keeping it springy and supple, which helps you feel stronger, more energetic, more flexible, and more agile.

These stretches are helpful for other reasons: They are designed to target your fascia, rather than the muscle, so there’s no pain. And because your muscle is contracted throughout the stretch—it’s called a loaded eccentric movement—it helps you get stronger as well as looser. The stretches are designed to work the belly of the muscle—the middle, fleshy portion—protecting the tendons and joints from overstretching.


Q
What are the four steps of a Bendable Body stretch?
A

Following the four pillars of a stretch will help give you strength and flexibility, restructure fascia, and keep your joints safe in the process.

Pillar 1: Start. The start position is key, because you start with the muscle in its shortest possible position based on the leverage you have in the stretch. For example, to stretch the front of your hip, you start with your leg bent into your torso so that the muscles in the front of your hip are contracted as much as possible before you begin to stretch them out.

Pillar 2: Contract. Contract the muscle to resist the primary movement of the stretch. In many cases, you’ll be resisting the movement of a helping hand or a stationary prop. Contraction involves the fascia in the process of stretching; if you don’t resist, it won’t do anything to change the fascia.

Pillar 3: Lengthen. Lengthen while maintaining resistance and contraction. It’s important to go only as far in the stretch as you can go while continuing to resist. This can be a fairly short movement for some muscles.

Pillar 4: Release. Let it all go. Release the resistance and contraction and return to the start position. If you resist as you return to the start position, you’ll be doing a strengthening movement, and this will cause unnecessary fatigue.


How to Reverse the Negative Effects of
Too Much Sitting

Sitting is killing us. A Mayo Clinic analysis of thirteen studies concluded that “sitting time and activity levels found in those who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.”

The average American adult sits for more than half their day—more than at any other time in history. And it takes only twenty minutes of sitting to create dense fascia in your hamstring muscles, which can result in stiffness and pain. But what we’ve found from working with our clients is that just five minutes of effective stretching can reverse those negative effects.

You can do this easy stretch routine just about anywhere. We recommend two to four sets of each stretch every day, interspersed throughout the day, to achieve optimal results. Do eight to ten repetitions of each stretch per set.

Even if you can stretch only three times a week, start there and you’ll see improvements. As long as you’re stretching correctly, any amount will help.

1

Back of shoulders and neck

Back of shoulders and neck fascia stretch
Back of shoulders and neck fascia stretch

Start with your arms at a right angle, palms together above head, and elbows wide.

Contract by pressing your palms together.

Lengthen by drawing your elbows together. Be sure to keep the contraction.

Release and return to the start position.

    Tips:

  1. Tuck your tailbone under and draw your ribs toward the back of your body.
  2. Apply equal pressure between your palms and fingers.

2

Top of shoulders and neck

Top of shoulders and neck fascia stretch
Top of shoulders and neck fascia stretch

Start with your target arm at a right angle and your helping hand clasped around elbow.

Contract by driving your target arm toward the back of the body.

Lengthen by using the helping hand to bring your target arm to center.

Release and return to the start position.

    Tips:

  1. Tuck your tailbone under and draw your ribs toward the back of your body.
  2. Be sure to cup your elbow joint with your palm. Don’t resist going back to the start position—let it go!

3

Central hamstring

Central hamstring fascia stretch
Central hamstring fascia stretch

Start with the target leg extended away from the body, foot flexed and straight, a gentle bend in the knee, and hands interlaced above the knee.

Contract by driving the target leg away from your body.

Lengthen by using your arms to draw the leg into your torso while you continue to resist.

Release and return to the start position.

    Tips:

  1. Feel free to use a pillow under your head to support your neck.
  2. Don’t resist too much; your arms should be able to overpower your leg.
  3. The stretch works to break down your dense fascia, but it’s okay if you don’t feel anything, because you can’t feel your fascia.

4

Lateral hamstring

Lateral hamstring fascia stretch
Lateral hamstring fascia stretch

Start with your legs bent, your feet under your hips, shoulder-width apart, hands raised on a bolster, blocks, or a chair.

Contract and flex the target leg, and shift your weight to the ball of the foot.

Lengthen and raise your opposite leg, keeping your hip closed and your pelvis square.

Release and return to the start position, with your feet next to each other.

    Tips:

  1. You can use the seat of a chair to rest your elbows as an alternate option; just make sure your shoulders are hip level or lower.
  2. Keep your hips square. Create internal rotation in the leg you lift to ensure this happens.
  3. Go slow! The most important part of this stretch is the first five to six inches when you lift your leg—that’s where you change the densest fascia.
  4. Always keep a slight bend in the leg you’re standing on to make sure you don’t hyperextend your knee.


Sita Hagenburg is a flexibility trainer at Bendable Body, which she cofounded with John Kelly. Hagenburg earned her bachelor’s degree in religious studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and spent fourteen years as a nun at the Vedanta Society studying Hindu philosophy and meditation. She also is a shamanic healer. Kelly has over a decade of stretching experience; previously, he trained at The Genius of Flexibility under Bob Cooley.

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