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Maybe The Flexibility Exercises Are Not Working Because…Stress

Maybe The Flexibility Exercises Are Not Working Because…Stress

“I know the pieces fit ’cause I watched them fall away.”
Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

Ever feel like no matter how much flexibility or mobility work you do you’re just not getting any “looser”. The tension and pain in the body restricts you from doing certain things. Like, when walking around town you feel like a cowboy who just shat their pants and now tries to act cool like it didn’t happen. Well, it did happen. And it doesn’t look cool.

Maybe it’s not the flexibility exercises that are wrong, or that you’re not doing them enough. If you’ve done your best to eliminate the activities that make you tight (hello sitting hunched over a laptop) it’s worth observing your mind.

Hello mind. Remember me?

Enter stress. Not only can poorly managed psychological stress keep your muscles stiff, but it can also trigger and increase pain. As this study states about low back pain, “Having either stress or depression was also significantly associated with greater risk of flare-ups.”

When working with clients I see this highlighted most often in people dealing with the long-term annoyance of low back pain, frozen shoulder or neck pain. It’s not uncommon for them to have a flare up whenever they’re going through a stressful period in their life.

And regardless of what we do sometimes there is only little improvement with pain and tension until the stress subsides.

If you’re dealing with persistent pain get diagnosed by an allied health professional first.

That’s your physio, chiro or osteo. I hate to be all doom and gloom, but you want to make sure the pain isn’t there because of something more sinister.

Besides, once cleared and diagnosed you’ve removed the added stress of worrying about the unknown.

Combine stress management with your training plan

Different tools for different minds. There is no a universal solution for each person. But here are few that I’ve found people having the most success with when managing stress.

  • Prioritise sleep. I know I said there are no universal solutions. But poor sleep is a major piece in why people feel like rusty cowboys. Which makes sleep a universal solution.
  • Daily meditation or mindful breathing. Could be one minute, could be ten. Here’s my favourite no-nonsense meditation app.
  • Daily walks outside. If possible, somewhere away from traffic, concrete and excessive noise. So ideally avoid walking on a busy road that circles a highrise housing a kindergarten. Even short walks make a difference.
  • Laugh often. A short daily clip from Ricky Gervais should be prescribed as medicine.

Yes, working on flexibility is important

And we should keep at it. But sometimes we need to look beyond of what’s going on with our bodies. If we’re doing mobility exercises over and over again without seeing any change it’s worth checking what’s going in that mind of ours.

Relieve Neck Pain From Sitting (Or, Better, Don’t Get It In The First Place)

Relieve Neck Pain From Sitting (Or, Better, Don’t Get It In The First Place)

In the end of this I’ll give you movements to loosen up stiff neck, but let’s start at the root level. Have a proper set up for working from home so you’ll get minimal neck pain in the first place.

By now you likely know what an ergonomic desk set up looks like for us, the greatest of them all hominids (and, I say, the only ones needing to adhere to an ergonomic desk set up), humans.

Here’s how to sit:

Be like this guy.
  • Straight spine all the way from your hips to the back of your skull.
  • Upper arms vertical.
  • Elbows at 90 degrees.
  • Hands resting on the keyboard.
  • Head and eyes looking straight ahead.
  • If you use a laptop, either prop the screen to eye level and get a separate keyboard. Or, keep the laptop for keyboard use and get a separate monitor (this is what I do).

And here are few things to remember as you’re pounding away the keyboard, stressed out of your mind for the impending deadline:

  • Don’t make the chicken neck inching your forehead ever closer to the screen.
  • I suggest sticking a post-it note on the side of your screen saying “don’t be a chicken”.

As in, don’t be this guy:

Loser chicken bound for neck-pain train.

And we should talk briefly about breathing

It’s common to breath like an un-human when neck deep in focus mode. And guess what. Breathing like an un-human is not that good for you when your goal is to be as much human as possible.

Here’s how to breath like a human:

  • Focus on inhaling into your ribs, hips and even low back. Not into your neck and shoulders. If your shoulders raise with each inhale you’re on a train bound for neck and shoulder stiffness.
  • Inhale and exhale through your nose only. Gag your mouth shut if necessary. You can’t get the diaphragm to do it’s work with mouth breathing.
  • On that earlier post-it note add “breath like a human.”

Adventurous anti-sitting options for the enthusiastic worker

Try half kneeling and kneeling positions. I often alternate between these two to stop my hip flexors, low back and consequently neck, feel like I’ve been cursed by some evil, hip stiffness shaman from Brazil.

Chairless working for the alternatively minded.

Already being an ergonomic being, but still needing some neck love?

Here are few simple movements you can do at the comfort of your home. This combination will help to reduce the neck tension and strengthen your upper back.

Neck, upper back and shoulder rotations (first three in this video)
x 2-3 rotation in each direction.

Bonus points if you can mimic my somewhat creepy-zen like facial expressions.

Swimmers in tall kneeling
x 2-5 in each direction.

Avoid any position if it aggravates your neck. Keep upper back (and the rest of the body) tight throughout the movement. It should feel like the tension moves from the neck to the muscles of your upper back. In other words, this movement should feel dope. And definitely not awful.

Naked batwings (on the floor or against a wall)
x 1 max hold x 2-3

Tense up the whole body like doing a high-tension plank. Then try to lift yourself off the floor by driving elbows into the ground. Because you’re like Scrooge McDuck (super-tight) it’s impossible to move anywhere. Upper back is working like crazy though.

Did I just make you feel better?