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Exercises & Stretching

"The Wellness Twenty"

Below are twenty of my favourite exercises and stretches which have been thought up and adapted, through experience, over the years.  These are designed for anyone to do and should provide patients with an approach to loosening or toning the various parts of the body which I find are most often a problem. 

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Christine Keeler (by Lewis Morley, 1963).  Although some might take issue with other aspects of her behaviour, please take note of her excellent posture and ergonomic arrangement.  Sitting in this way, on a reversed dining-room or kitchen chair, will often take the pressure off a lower-back which is in trouble.  It also allows the spinal joints to experience a more appropriate configuration than if standing, slumping on the sofa or lying in bed.  Do give it a try next time things stiffen up!

All twenty manoeuvres should be easy to attempt and safe to perform.  If any seem unduly difficult or cause your symptoms to worsen, please stop immediately and seek advice.  With all the exercises, it is better to sink gently into the stretch, rather than to bounce away at it.  If one jerks a muscle, the natural tendency will be for the fibres to spring back in reaction, which could well aggravate the situation instead.  Taking a breath and then stretching and relaxing while breathing out is usually a much more effective alternative. 

I have avoided giving instructions that are too specific regarding repetitions or durations, as this is something which will, naturally, vary from person to person.  Do try to take ownership yourself and let these become your exercises, rather than mine: you should decide when, where and how often feels best for you.  Also, please feel free make any adaptations either for safety or convenience: for example, there is little point in swinging your arms about wildly if exercising in a tiny, cluttered garage.


Likewise, if you feel a bit wobbly (either through seniority, idleness or infirmity), then it's perfectly acceptable to prop yourself up against an item of furniture as you perform your manoeuvres, rather than risk falling over.  You might decide to grab the desk in No.18, brace yourself against a bedpost in No.19 or perch on a pouffe in No.20, for instance.


If you don't feel much at the end of a series of exercises, it's probably because you haven't done very much!  Maybe, therefore, increase either the repetitions or the duration of your endeavours.  You could even try using suitable hand or leg weights if you feel so inclined and are ready to progress further.  If you feel suddenly worse at any time or experience any new or increased discomfort an hour or so after finishing, then don't persevere while bellowing at yourself "No Pain No Gain!".  That might be true on an Army selection march but it's much less relevant in the comfort of a Battersea flat's spare room. 

In general, however, you might aim to do 3 or 4 sets of a dozen or so repetitions each time.  The final set should be difficult and approaching your comfortable limit. A good plan could be for you to select a handful of exercises from this list and to spend a few minutes with these each day. 

Finally, I am often asked about the best sitting position or posture while working at ones desk.  If the lower back is causing trouble, a good solution can often be to adopt the configuration shown below:

Good luck!

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1.  Stretching the Belt 


Aim:  To open and stretch the chest and shoulders. 

Technique:  Hold a strap or belt wider than shoulder-width distance out in front of your chest.  Inhale and draw the strap up over your head and as far back as you can without creating tension in the neck or shoulders.  As you exhale, draw the strap back down towards the ground.  Do this 5-10 times. 


Tips:  Keep the shoulders down, ensure that they do not rise upwards towards the ears.  Make sure that your hands are neither too close together nor too far apart. 

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2.  Heroic Shoulder Twists 

Aim:  To release the chest and front of the shoulders. 


Technique:  Lie on your stomach and extend your arms perpendicularly out to the side, palms facing down, and ensure that they are in alignment with the shoulder socket.  Start to bring your right hand to the floor and roll to the left, placing weight on the right hand.  Keep the head relaxing and facing towards the ground or rest it on a cushion if you prefer.   


You can choose to keep your legs straight, stack them one on top of the other or bend the back leg.  Hold for 3 inhalations and exhalations and then turn the palm upwards to face the ceiling.  This will release a slightly different spot in the shoulder. 


Tips:  It is very important to keep your extended arm in alignment with the shoulder socket.  This is a deep stretch, so do simply back off if it feels too strong. 

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3.  Back Scratching 


Aim:  To stretch the shoulders, armpits and upper arms. 


Technique:   Start by warming up the shoulders with the ‘Belt Stretch’ exercise.  Once your shoulders feel comfortably loosened, take the strap in your right hand, hang it over your right shoulder.  Next, slide the left hand up your back as far as it will go and grab the strap. 


In time, you should be able to make contact between the hands themselves.  Don't be alarmed if you can't quite do this initially.  Just do your best and keep your left elbow tucked closely against your torso.   Slowly pull the left hand upwards until it reaches the end of its comfortable range.  Hold for half a minute or so and gently release.  Repeat on the other side.  


Tips:   It might be easier, in the early stages, to this lying flat on the floor for extra support.  Once in position, “flapping” the elbows gently backwards might help you to increase the range.  Also, don’t forget to breathe! 

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4.  Threading the Needle 

Aim:  To release the upper back and shoulder joints. 


Technique:  Begin on all fours and walk your right hand forwards one or two inches in front of your shoulder and then out to the side.  Turn your chest and gaze towards your right hand as you slowly lower the outer edge of your left arm onto the floor.   


Allow the left side of your head also to rest on the floor.  Hold and breathe.  Tension in your shoulder will naturally release.  To come out of the stretch, use your right hand to push yourself back to a neutral table-top position and undo the twist.  Repeat on the other side. 


Tips:  Keep your hips above your knees and don’t allow them to drop forwards or backwards.  Make sure that you bring the side of your head down to rest on the floor.  

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5.  Sniffing the Armpit 


Aim:  Lengthens the muscles in the neck and along the upper spine. 


Technique:  Start by standing up tall, move your right ear towards your right shoulder, keeping your chin slightly lifted.  If you would like to intensify the stretch extend your left arm to your side and reach up through the fingers.   


After 5 breaths in this position, start to turn your nose towards your underarm.  You can continue to keep your arm extended to the side for a deeper stretch.  Take 5 deep breaths while holding the stretch, before slowly returning your head to the starting position.  Repeat on the other side. 


Tips:  Keep your chin lifted, when leaning your ear towards your shoulder. 

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6.  Supported Chest Opening 


Aim:  To open the chest and release the diaphragm. 


Technique:  Lie on your back with a block (or a couple of paperback books) under your shoulder blades.  Straighten your legs and allow your feet to fall open.  Externally rotate your arms so that your palms face upwards.  Let your shoulders drape off the block. 


You can place a block underneath your head if the stretch is too deep for the neck.  Always relax your face, throat, and jaw to gain maximum benefit. 


Tips:  Make sure that the block under your shoulder blades is far enough up and not touching the ribs below your shoulder blades. 

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7.  Indignant Chair Twists 


Aim:  To release and invite movement into the thoracic spine. 

Technique:  Sit up tall and well back into a sturdy chair.  Place your left hand on your right thigh and your right hand on the back or side of the chair.  Rotate to the right.  if possible, and depending on the design of our chair, try to place both hands on the top of the chair with the thumbs towards you.

Inhale to lengthen through the spine and exhale to twist a bit deeper.  Do this for 3 breaths.  Repeat on the other side.  Try to remain sitting in exactly the same position rather than diminishing the twist by turning through your hips instead!

Tips:  Engage your core to help facilitate a deeper twist but do keep breathing.  To increase the stretch, place your right leg over your left leg when twisting to the right and vice versa. 

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Sit Ups

8.  Sit Backs (not ups) 


Aim:  To develop the deep abdominal core. 


Technique:  Sit on the floor, with your knees up and feet hooked under something, such as an armchair or sofa, for support.  Alternatively, you might prefer to rest your legs on the seat of a chair or put your feet on the wall.  Touch your ears with both hands and wing the elbows out to the sides.  While looking horizontally ahead, ease yourself backwards until the tummy begins to bind (roughly 45degrees) and hold the position.   


When abdominal trembling begins to set in, return to the upright.  Repeat a handful of times.  By targeting slow-twitch postural muscle fibres rather than faster movement-oriented ones, this exercise can be far more beneficial than the standard sit-up. 


Tips:  Keep looking forwards and don’t use the hands to support or pull the head up. 

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9.  Elbow Releases 


Aim:  To release the tendons that can exacerbate tennis elbow. 


Technique:  Make a horseshoe with your other hand and drop the bad arm into it, with the palm facing upwards.  Locate the tendon that is causing the pain using the four fingertips of the supporting hand.  Twanging this taut band should produce exquisite discomfort, similar to taking too big a mouthful of ice-cream.  Having isolated the culprit, apply firm pressure into it. 

Keeping the fingers straight on the bad arm, start to rotate that wrist and hand wrist in a circular motion, whilst maintaining pressure on the trigger point.  This will start to release after about a dozen rotations.  Turn the hand in both directions and do not be surprised if you hear a few sound effects as the bands of muscle are articulated.  By easing these off, you will take pressure off the part of the elbow joint  where they attach.  This is almost always implicated in tennis elbow type pain.


Tips:  Keep pressure on the tendon(s) and do not bend the fingers of the bad hand.  Bend the wrist fully instead.  

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10.  The Hook 


Aim:  To recalibrate the rhomboid muscles between the shoulder blades and prevent slump. 


Technique:  Stand up straight with a slight bend in your knees and engage the stomach muscles.  Draw your arms straight in front of you, keeping them in line with your shoulders.  Bend the elbows, making sure your arms are in front of your chest with your right palm facing outwards and your left palm facing inwards.   


Hook them together and pull the shoulder blades towards each other for 5 breaths.  Release your hands, reverse the hand hook and pull for 5 breaths.  Repeat this 3 times on each side. 


Tips:  Be sure to engage the arms strongly enough to create a stretch along the chest and shoulders.  Keep the arms, elbows and hands horizontal and at shoulder height.   

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11.  The Wellness Scarecrow 


Aim:  To open up the shoulders and neck. 

Technique:  Stand up tall with your arms out to either side.  Turn your right hand to face down as your left hand rotates to face upwards.  Next, reverse the position with your left hand facing down, as you turn your head to look towards the open right palm. 


Tips:  Ensure you keep a vertical nose and the chin tucked in whilst keeping your arms horizontal and in line with your shoulders.  Don’t tip the head backwards.  Imagine trying to touch two walls (or trees), with your fingertips. 

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12.  The Potent Propellor


Aim:  To improve the range of movement in the shoulder joints.  

Technique:  Stand up tall with slightly bent knees and arms pointing horizontally out to each side.  Draw your shoulder blades down your back and start to lift your right arm up until your bicep is in line with your ear.   

With your palms facing downwards, rotate both arms forwards in one small circle then one medium circle and one large one.  This should have arms brushing ears and hands brushing legs as they pass.  Reverse the process now, with a medium and then a small rotation back to the horizontal.   


Now, repeat the revolutions as before but with your arms rotating in the opposite direction.  Finally, reverse both hands so that the palms face upwards.  This will allow you to do a further two sets of revolutions; clockwise and anti-clockwise as before. 


Tips:  Keep your chest out, chin down and neck in the back of your collar.  Be sure to engage the shoulder and back muscles and do not allow the arms to swing in their sockets.  This is a controlled movement. 

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13.  Superman 


Aim:  To strengthen and co-ordinate muscles in the back. 



Technique:  Doing this from the kneeling position also facilitates balance and enhances pelvic as well as good spinal control, whilst also incorporating a contribution from the shoulder girdle. 

Kneel on all fours, with both knees under your hips and your hands placed beneath each shoulder.  If your knees are sore, kneel on a cushion.  If your wrists are sore, try making a fist and resting on your knuckles.  Keep both hips facing the ground throughout this exercise. 


Extend your right leg out behind your body while lifting your left arm up.  Aim to engage a long stretch through the body from the tips of your toes in a straight line to your fingertips.  Feel each muscle engage en route.  Lower your foot back to the ground and repeat up to 10 times.  Repeat this exercise with the left leg.  You can build on this manouever by touching the knee and elbow together between extensions.


Tips:  Keep your chin tucked in throughout and avoid holding your breath.  

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14.  The Proper Plank


Aim:  To tone and co-ordinate deeper, core muscles in the spine and pelvis.  


Technique:  Start on your hands and knees.  Lower your forearms to the floor with elbows positioned under your shoulders and your fingertips touching, ensuring that your arms are at a 90-degree angle.  Step your feet back, one at a time.  Maintain a straight line from your heels to the top of your head, looking down at the floor.  Draw your naval in, up and hold it there.   


Gently tense each muscle group right up through the body from one side to the other as you maintain the position and breathe away gently.  Stay like this for as long as you can then kneel back down and curl up in a ball for a short while, with the arms stretched out flat on the floor (the Child’s Pose, in yoga).  Repeat a second time. 


Tips:  Keep your head in line with your spine and look at the floor directly below you, imagining that you are holding a tennis ball between your chin and neck.  When your core muscles start to fatigue, don’t allow the hips to drop forwards. 

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15.  Wagging the Tail 


Aim:  To release your lower back. 


Technique:  Find a sink, bannister, back of a chair or something that is at approximately hip height, horizontal and sturdy.  An Aga rail is perfect for this.  Stand about an arm’s length away and bend from your hips whilst leaning back from the prop.  Your hips should now be at about a 90degree angle and the back and arms in a horizontal line. 


From here, wag your hips from side to side as well as tilting them back and forth, finding where you feel the stretch most.  Breathe into this area for about 10 seconds.  This stretch can provide welcome relief during pregnancy or childbirth but please check before using it over-enthusiastically. 


Tips:  Do stand far enough away from the prop to elongate the spine as much as possible.  

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16.  The Twist 

Aim:  To enhance diagonal co-ordination throughout the spine.   


Technique:  Lie down, with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.  Link your hands behind your head and hold the chin down.  While shifting your hips to the right, cross your right knee over the left, and keep on going; allowing both knees to fall down towards the left.  It is important to keep your right shoulder and elbow glued to the floor and keep your chest facing proudly towards the sky.  


Once you have settled into the stretch, you can also turn extend the arms into the crucifixion position and turn your head to gaze over your right (opposite) shoulder, if this feels comfortable for your neck.  Take 10 deep breaths and then repeat on the other side. 


Tips:  Try to keep both shoulders firmly to the floor throughout. 

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17.  Ninety/Ninety


Aim:  To release and open up the hip joint. 


Technique:  Kneel as shown, with the front leg across the body, bent to 90degrees at the knee.  The trailing leg should also be bent to 90degrees and placed directly behind the front heel.  When settled in this position, extend your back and push the chest out. 


Gently lean forward to obtain a deep stretch into your leading leg and hip.  Similarly, a gentle lean backwards will stretch into the hip joint of the trailing leg.  Keeping weight on the rear leg, pivot around and repeat the procedure from the beginning, on the other side. 


Tips:  Make sure that both legs are at 90degrees before lowering yourself into the stretch.  Also, please avoid this manoeuvre in the case of advanced arthritis or hip replacement, as you are likely to remain on the floor afterwards.

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18.  The Happy Groin 


Aim:  To release muscles on the front and inside of your hip. 


Technique:  Stand squarely in front of a table and place your right on it, in front of the left hip.  Turn the left foot inwardly so that it points across and behind you at 45degrees.  Ease the hips directly forwards and hug the top (right) knee towards the opposite (left) shoulder.   Breathe out and into the stretch.  Hold for and then repeat a few times until looser.  Repeat on the opposite side. 


Tips:  Make sure the supporting foot is flat on the floor and turned sufficiently across, with the leg straight.

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19.  Orangutan Swings 


Aim:  To release gently the entire spine, hamstrings and shoulders. 


Technique:  Stand with your legs just wider than shoulder-width apart, both thighs and buttocks engaged and heavy, lazy arms.  Slowly bend forwards from the waist while starting to swing your arms and shoulders from side to side, with the hands slopping against the back at the end of each twist.  When you are ready, gradually work the hands downwards, swinging them towards the opposite feet. 


At the same time, also start to make the arm movements bigger as you go, eventually trying to bring to your arms fully over your shoulder and pointing a finger towards the ceiling.  Follow this finger with your eyes and aim, eventually, to look vertically upwards at the ceiling (or sky) above you. 


Tips:  This should be is a very fluid and floppy swing, rather than a clockwork or mechanical movement.  If balance is a challenge, you could try gently leaning your bottom against a wall.  Stop if you feel dizzy!

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20.  Safe Toe Touching


Aim:  To loosen the hamstrings and unlock the lower back. 


Technique:  Stand in front of a step or chair and place your right heel onto it, in front of the left shoulder.  Keeping the outstretched leg straight, point the toes up towards your nose.  You can allow the leg that you are standing on to bend slightly at the knee if necessary. 


Drawing your right hip back and left hip forward (to keep a neutral pelvis) breathe out and stretch your left hand to the outside of your right shin, as far down as you can.  Hold here for a short while and repeat three times before swapping sides.  The hamstrings should only ever be stretched one side at a time to avoid straining the weaker small muscles in the lower back. This remains much straighter here than if you attempt to touch both toes together. 


Tips:  Do not bounce the stretch. 

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