The best time for a workout is a personal matter—geared toward that part of the day that provides a consistent, routine-like window of opportunity. For some, that’s first thing in the morning before life gets in the way. Others prefer to wait until after work to burn off stress before heading home. It’s all good—but few people give much thought to home workout routines before bed that jump-start recovery, improve sleep, and serve as training substitutes on busy days when regularly scheduled workouts didn’t happen.
These nightly wind-down rituals can be just as important as daily trips to the gym, track, or swimming pool. Not only do they add to your overall fitness, but they’ll also attend to your stress levels and sleep patterns at that crucial time—right before bed. Here are six brief routines to consider before calling it a day.
A full-blown yoga class can be as rigorous and challenging as any workout, but that’s not the goal here. Instead, we want to perform a few moves to lengthen and strengthen our muscles while resetting our posture from a day spent sitting too much behind a desk or steering wheel.
Begin with two rounds of cat/cow. Start on all fours with hands beneath your shoulders and knees on the ground. Inhale, dropping your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into cow position. Lift your chin and chest and gaze forward. For cat, exhale as you draw your belly button to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling like a cat.
Next, perform the child’s pose. From a kneeling position, touch your big toes together and sit on your heels. Separate your knees about hip-width apart and lay your torso down between your thighs. Place your hands on the floor along your torso, palms up, and release the fronts of your shoulders toward the floor. You should feel the weight of the front of the shoulders pulling the shoulder blades wide across your back.
2. Foam Rolling
This “poor man’s massage” can work simple wonders—using deep compression to roll out muscle spasms. The compression causes the nerves to relax, gets the blood flowing, and helps the body recover from the stresses of the day—including your training regimen. Think of your body like clay. The roll softens up the clay so you can remold it into something more pliable and functional tomorrow.
Foam rollers have evolved from 20 years ago when they were simply 18-inch rolls of tightly packed foam roughly five inches in diameter. Now they come rigid, textured, and even with vibrating options. Whatever your preference, glide your sore muscles over the roller and hold on tender points for 30 seconds to flush by-products, alleviate soreness, and lengthen tight muscles. Use it anywhere you feel tight and in need of a massage.
3. Trigger Points
Trigger point exercises work similarly to a foam roller, but they make it easier to isolate and release deeper tissues. Use a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or other hard ball to perform self-massage exercises that work areas such as your IT (iliotibial) band, thoracic spine, and the bottoms of your feet. Adjust your position on the ball until you find a sore “trigger” point. Hold on the spot for 30 to 60 seconds. Maintain as much bodyweight on the ball as possible. Don’t neglect your feet, which take a daily pounding. Try different balls along your arches ranging from a golf ball to a lacrosse ball.
4. AIS Stretching
Active-isolated stretching (AIS), developed more than 40 years ago by Aaron Mattes, requires an 8- to 10-foot length of rope, about the thickness of a jump rope. While on your back, wrap the rope around one foot at a time and perform a series of leg stretches—up, out, and across the body—that will stimulate your muscles to relax and contract through new ranges of motion. You won’t hold stretches for 10 to 30 seconds, as in traditional stretching. Instead, you’ll use the rope to gently assist in pulling the muscle a bit farther at the end of a stretch than your body would normally allow. Exhale during the assistance portion, allowing a deeper stretch. Then pull the leg back to the starting position.
5. Massage Gun
If foam rollers are the poor man’s massage, then a massage gun is the middle-class man’s routine. These contraptions proliferated in recent years and competition thankfully has brought down the price point. The devices look like radar guns with a vibrating ball (among optional attachments) at the end and have multiple speeds and settings. Use the gun anywhere you need a massage, including the back, neck, and shoulders.
A consistent sleep ritual that involves going to bed at the same time, a dark room, and powering off electronics at least 30 minutes before turning off the lights is the key to falling asleep quickly and enjoying deep slumber. So, too, is breathing. Practice inhaling through your nose for six counts, holding for three counts, and then exhaling through your nose for six counts. Repeat four times to relax your mind and body and induce sleep.
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