Getting injured is the worst. Seriously. There’s no way to sugar coat it. It’s not fun, we may have to spend time at the doctor, scale back training sessions, or even take some time off. When we’re looking to be in a solid routine with training, it often feels like a step backward when we’re injured.
Some injury is often unavoidable. This typically is a result of an accident: falling on an icy sidewalk, cutting a finger while chopping vegetables, or breaking a bone playing sports. But others may be able to be prevented. These often occur over time and unnoticed, until they become an issue. This can include: chronically tight muscles, stress fractures, and movement deficiencies that may cause pain when we load them in the gym. For example, if you have a poor squat pattern, but we allow you to use weight anyway or go past your personal limits, this may cause injury that could’ve been avoided. By incorporating some small movement habits daily, we’re often able to both prevent and lessen the effects of injury.
EXOS, a premiere human performance company, refers to this as regeneration. It is partnered with recovery. Recovery is passive. Without doing anything, recovery in the body will occur. Muscles will repair, heart rate will return to resting levels, and the body will, once again, be in a place of balance, or homeostasis. By utilizing regeneration strategies, we’re actively working to promote and encourage recovery and optimization of movement. These regeneration strategies may help speed up the natural recovery process. Today, I want to talk about ten ways that you can bulletproof your body, recovery faster, and lessen the risk of injury from home with minimal (or zero!) equipment.
- Doorway Pec Stretch: If you have a desk job, you likely spend time hunched over work, a computer screen, with your arms crossed in front of you, etc. This shortens the pecs and leads to tight shoulders, overall. When we can’t open up the chest, but then go to perform exercises such as a push up or chest press, it can lead to some nasty shoulder issues. One way that we can head this off is to use a Doorway Pec Stretch. This opens up the chest and shoulder, allowing you to stretch the tight muscles.
- T-Spine Opener: Any movement will do, I’ll link a few below with some “how to videos”, but hand-in-hand with our tight pecs and chest, we likely have a tight t-spine or upper back. I used to have minimal t-spine mobility. Seriously, check out the picture. But, by using these drills multiple times per day, I was able to loosen it up and now I’m fairly mobile in that area and move well. Options for t-spine extension and rotation drills are: the bow and arrow, Bretzel 1 or 2, open book, or shoulder sweeps. Start slow with this one and gradually reach for more and more of a stretch.
- Deep Breathing: We breath every single day, but chances are they’re shallow, chest breaths. We often aren’t conditioned to take those big, deep, belly breaths unless we’re consciously focusing on it. Deep breathing can be done in the morning, right when you wake up, or in the evening, as you’re lying in bed going to sleep at the end of the night. At night, it can be used to relax and optimize sleep, which I’ll talk about more later. As we deep breathe, we want to make sure that our stomach rises first, and our chest rises last. We’re breath in through the nose, pause with that full inhale for 1-2 seconds, and slowly exhale through the mouth. Again, we’ll pause 1-2 seconds after the exhale before taking a second breath. Try to exhale for twice as long as you inhale. Aim for a more than 10 second long exhale!
- Counter-Top Lat and T-Spine Stretch: Our latissimus dorsi, or lats, are the large muscles on our back and the t-spine, as I covered earlier, refers to our mid-back. If you notice yourself in a hunched forward posture while sitting at your desk or working on the computer, these are likely tight. This counter top lat stretch is perfect for when you’re waiting for food to be done in the microwave or during the last few minutes of cooking on the stove top. Set your timer just a few minutes before the food is done, or stay in the kitchen while you microwave, and use your countertop to stretch the mid-back and lats. Then, shake it out, serve the food, and eat your dinner! It’s one extra step, but by building it into your nightly routine, you’re less likely to forget to do it.
- Half-Kneeling Couch Stretch: This is a GREAT hip flexor and quad stretch. Instead of sitting on the couch at the end of the day and allowing our hip flexors to stay shortened and tight, as they might’ve been if you were sitting at a desk all day at work, spend some time in this half-kneeling couch stretch. It’s a passive stretch; once you’re in the position, just hang out there on each side while you’re watching TV or scrolling on your phone at the end of the day.
- Toe Yoga: Our feet are our connection to the ground. They’re the start of the base that we move from throughout the day and during our training sessions. It’s vital that we take care of them. One way that we can do this is with toe yoga. Simply, toe yoga is moving your feet around. As you start, just move them. Walk around barefoot, flex and point your feet, roll a golf ball on the bottom of your feet to loosen the muscles. As you want to progress, there are a variety of patterns you can perform: big toe down/little toes all up, big toe up/ little toes down, big and pinky toes down/ other toes up, spreading our (or splaying) the toes, and “running” the toes (think about how you would drum your fingers on a desktop, one down at a time and then back up). Give it a shot seated, standing, balancing on one leg… the options are endless!
- Teeth-brushing Ankle Mobility: Ankle mobility is highly underrated, and chances are, we could all work to improve it. As you’re brushing your teeth, you’re likely standing in front of the bathroom mirror and you have the cabinet. We can use this time to do a version of the standing ankle mobility stretch. Start with your toe on the wall and tap your knee forward. Keeping your heel on the ground, move your foot further and further away from the wall until you reach a point when it’s difficult to touch and you feel a stretch in your front ankle. Move in and out of that stretch or just hold it on each side for the length that you brush your teeth!
- Neck Nods and Turns: If you’re like me, you hold stress in your neck. Seriously, I would say, on average, I live a fairly low stress life, and whenever the littlest bit of stress comes up, I can immediately feel it in my neck and upper traps. Incorporating neck nods and turns as made a huge difference in loosening my neck and allows me to make a conscious choice to release the stress and tension that I’m holding there. To perform these, sit or stand tall and punch your hands toward the ground. We want to make sure that our shoulders don’t do the moving. Then, tuck the chin to the chest and think about reaching through the chin as you look up and down. Repeat looking over the left and right shoulders as well.
- Optimize Your Sleep: Although sleep is passive recovery, the benefits of quality sleep are numerous. I couldn’t possible name them all without taking a full article to explain each. However, I’ll leave it with: quality sleep is absolutely vital and I encourage you to check out this article for more (https://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-sleep). Some ways we can change our environment to set ourselves up for a quality night’s sleep are: going to bed and waking up around the same times every day, keep the room completely black, use a white noise device or fan, practice relaxation or deep breathing prior to going to bed, avoiding blue light at least an hour before bed, keep the room slightly cooled (between 66-72F is ideal), and avoiding caffeine at least six hours before bed time.
- Foam Rolling: I tried to keep it to no equipment, but I can’t not include foam rolling. Although true research is mixed, there’s numerous anecdotal benefits to including foam rolling in your daily routine. It allows you to break up tight knots in tissue and may promote more blood flow, thereby enhancing recovery, of tissues as well. The only downside is that it does require a foam roller, or other self-myofascial release tool. Good news, these aren’t too expensive and last for years.
There you have it! Ten ways to bulletproof your body from the comfort of your own home. They’re not complicated and don’t take a lot of time, minimal or no equipment is required, you don’t have to change in the special clothes, you likely won’t even break a sweat, but they can make all the difference in your movement, training, and reducing the risk of potential injuries!
Written by Emily O’Connor, NSCA-CPT, SFG1, Pn1, XPS