If you’re anything like me, you’ll jump up off your exercise mat, or come back from a run, and quickly return to your desk without spending a second to stretch out your tired muscles. When I’m marathon training, I’ll be sure to fit a weekly yoga class into my routine, but aside from that hour a week, I often don’t prioritize stretching.
Last week, in my quest to find the best YouTube ab workouts, I tried the Pamela Reif six-pack ab workout, and, wow, it was brutal. Coupled with my regular strength-training sessions, it left my body feeling tired — so when I stumbled across the Pamela Reif five-minute daily stretch I decided to add it to the end of each of my workouts for a week. Read on to find out what happened.
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The Pamela Reif five-minute daily stretch doesn’t require you to have any equipment other than an exercise mat. In the description, Reif writes that it “works perfectly as a cool down after any kind of workout, before bed or in the morning after waking up.”
Stretching has been found to increase your flexibility and range of motion, as well as increasing blood flow to your muscles, reducing delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). As I’ve mentioned in my workout reviews before, I suffer from sciatica after a horse-riding accident as a teenager, so for me, stretching is definitely something I should prioritize more.
The Pamela Reif 5-minute stretch
The stretch routine is short and sweet, which is perfect if you’re watching the clock, or squeezing a workout into your lunch break, or before dropping your kids off at school. The routine goes as follows:
30 seconds side-to-side stretch: To do a side-to-side stretch, kneel down on your mat, then raise your left arm up above your head and lean over to the right. Then pause. Then lift your right arm up and lean over to the left. You should feel the stretch along the side of your body.
30 seconds arm circles: Arm circles can help stretch and loosen the shoulder and upper back muscles. To do arm circles, raise your arms out to your sides and circle them to the side of your body. Think about drawing two circles to the side of you.
30 seconds neck circles: Neck circles can help release any tension or stiffness in the neck, which some people might experience after arm or ab workouts. To do neck circles, start with your head straight, looking forwards. Tip your head to the right side, lowering your ear to your shoulder, then roll the head backwards, leaning your left ear to your left shoulder. Then roll your head gently forward, lowering your chin to your chest. Repeat. Complete three to five repetitions in one direction, before changing.
30 seconds cat and cow rolls: The cat-cow stretch comes from yoga and is great for releasing any tension in the spine. To do the stretch, get onto all fours. Engaging your core, arch your back, and lower your chin to your chest, extending your tailbone — this is the cat position. Then tuck your pelvis, arch your spine and raise your eyeline to the ceiling; this is the cow position. Keep moving through these positions. Reif adds rotations of the hips to make the movement more fluid.
30 seconds hip flexor right: This hip flexor stretch can be done as Reif performs it, as a low-lunge, or with the lower knee pressed into the floor. The side you are stretching will be the leg nearer the floor, so in this case, bring the left leg forward and lunge, keeping your hips square and your chest open. Make sure your knee doesn’t bend beyond your toes and that if you’re leaning on your front leg, you’re not pressing down too hard on the knee joint itself. You should feel the stretch in your right hip flexor.
30 seconds hamstring stretch: From the hip flexor stretch, sit back on your right knee and extend your left leg so it is outstretched. Keep your shoulders and torso relaxed and bend forwards, reaching one hand towards your foot and keeping one on the floor to help you balance. It doesn’t matter if you can’t reach your foot, but you should feel the stretch along your left leg.
30 seconds pigeon stretch: Another brilliant stretch for the hip flexors. To do a pigeon stretch with the correct form, bring your left knee forward towards your left wrist, keeping your right leg outstretched. How bent or far forward your left leg is will depend on your body; find what feels right without putting pressure on the knee joint. You should feel the stretch in your left hip flexor. You can either stay sitting up, with your spine lengthened, or with your torso resting on your elbows in front of the bent leg.
30 seconds hip flexor left: Repeat the low lunge or hip flexor stretch on the left, with the right leg in front of you.
30 seconds hamstring stretch: Repeat the hamstring stretch on the left side, with your right leg outstretched this time.
30 seconds pigeon stretch: For the second pigeon stretch, your right knee will be bent and you will be stretching into your right hip flexor.
30 seconds tummy stretch: This kneeling backbend stretches your stomach muscles, as well as stretches the quads and hamstrings, and strengthens the back muscles. If you have any sort of lower back pain, you might not be able to bend back as far as Reif does, with her hands on her ankles. As an alternative, starting from a kneeling position, raise your arms above your head and look up towards your fingers, lean your arms back behind you, arching your back, and pause when you can feel the stretch.
I added the Pamela Reif 5-minute stretch to my workouts for a week — here’s what happened
The first time I tried this stretch routine I was watching the clock and counting down the seconds. Not running out of the gym at the end of my workout was new to me, and to be honest, staying on the mat for five minutes of stretching felt like wasted time. That said, while my mind was whirring, my body definitely needed the stretch. I could feel how tight my hip flexors were, from a hectic marathon-training schedule and from a week of sitting down behind a desk.
I also realized my neck muscles were extremely tight. Experts reckon sitting behind a screen for long periods of time increases tension in the neck, and in my job as a Fitness Editor, I do spend a good amount of time sitting behind my laptop. Physios have also come up with a new diagnosis of ‘text neck,’ which I’m sure most millennials will also be struggling with, after too much time spent hunched over, looking down at a phone.
For the cat-cow part of the stretch, I didn’t do the rolls as Reif did, but instead moved between the two positions, following my breath as I would in a yoga class. As I breathed in, I’d arch my back in the cat position; as I breathed out, I’d raise my pelvis and lower my belly to the ground in a cow position. This felt good on my lower back, which is definitely something I have to think about during most workouts.
By the time I’d gotten to my final pigeon pose, the stretch session I didn’t want to do had reminded me how much I enjoy yoga and a more gentle workout. For the final stretch, I opted for a more gentle backbend than Reif does in her workout, so as not to put too much pressure on my lower back.
For my next week of workouts, I performed this simple stretch routine at the end of each, and I found as the week went on the stretches felt easier and my back and hips felt a little looser. Yet a bigger surprise was that I actually looked forward to this part of the workout. The five-minute stretch really didn’t take that long, and I left the gym or got back to my desk feeling a little calmer.
Pressing pause between workout and real-life helped me reset my mindset. I often move at a million miles an hour and taking some time to breathe, stretch, and look after my body reminded me that actually, exercise isn’t just about losing weight or PR’ing my next marathon — it’s about taking time for myself to feel physically and mentally stronger.