As this past Thanksgiving neared, many clients asked how to handle, and hopefully prevent, the pain and tension associated with the demands of holiday prep. This simple guide is packed with quick and easy exercises that will change your holiday experience! Long periods of standing due to cooking, gift wrapping, shopping, and mingling at parties can take a toll on your back, neck, and joints. Here are 4 Handy Tips and 8 Easy-and-Quick Stretches to help combat the havoc that merry-making can take!

1. Warm Up Before the Festivities

Just like with working out, a good warm up can prepare your body for what it is about to endure. One of the beautiful benefits of stretching is that it helps us to form a better mind/body connection. By stretching a bit, here and there, at your leisure, you will help yourself to feel more present and connected to your body: emotionally and physically. Creating a solid mind/body connection can help you feel more present, so that the true meaning of the holidays can manifest. 

Cooking can be physically and psychologically demanding. You most likely will be spending hours on your feet, hunched over the counter: chopping, slicing, dicing, rolling, and kneading! As a result, many holiday cooks end up with back pain, neck pain, and headaches.

Take care of yourself through simple stretching, before and during your time in the kitchen. We’ve provided the instructions for the stretches below! Ankle Rolls, Quad Stretches, and Ankle & Calf stretches will help prevent lower-body discomfort. Chest openers like the Doorway Stretch and simple Shoulder Rolls can help to prevent chest tightness and help to alleviate neck pain and and possible headaches.

2. Take Care of Your Feet

Roll your feet with a tennis ball before donning your footwear for the day. Step on the tennis ball and squish it! Be gentle with your feet, while you roll. This will improve blood circulation and the hydration of the soft tissue under your foot. 

Footwear choices are incredibly important when spending long hours on your feet. Many times during the holiday, people will chose style over comfort, and that can be bad news for your feet and back.

Be smart about your choices when it comes to your shoes! Your body will thank you, and your enjoyment will increase! 

3. Schedule Breaks

Plan your cooking schedule, and schedule breaks in cooking. That can really go a long way to help manage physical and mental cooking-related stress.

Gift-wrapping may involve hours of sitting at a table or worse, on the floor. Make sure your give your hips and hamstrings a break by standing, stretching, and walking around occasionally. 

You might find yourself hunched over your table as you tie the perfect bow or curl those ribbons. Prevent tightness from building up in your chest with shoulder rolls, doorway stretches, and shoulder stretches.

4. Drink Plenty of Water

Holiday Parties have become a mainstay of our traditions, and they are a quick way to get into the holiday spirit. They are also a quick way to feel run-down and over-tired. Make sure that you remain hydrated throughout the evening. 

If you are drinking alcohol, it is a wise practice to alternate every alcoholic drink with a non-alcoholic drink. This will help mitigate the dehydration associated with alcohol consumption. 

I hate to be a “Debbie Downer”, but alcohol is a poison that causes the liver to work overtime to eliminate toxins. The body becomes depleted of vital amino acids, nutrients, and vitamins when the liver is working overtime. It can be beneficial to take a multi-vitamin before going to bed, to help the body bring its stores of vitamins and minerals back up to normal. Or, make sure to hit the crudite and fruit when you’re celebrating. 

Here are 7 Simple Stretches to Incorporate into Your Holiday Prep!

It is important to note: as with any stretching routine, you must pay close attention to your body. Always stretch to the point of comfort and release and never to the point of pain. These stretches are simple, effective, and efficient. Remember that you’ll feel more energized with better blood circulation. You may find that you’re an inspiration to your loved ones, as well.

1. Standing Calf Stretch

Upper Calf (Gastrocnemius)

  • Stand facing a wall with your arms straight in front of you and your hands flat against the wall. 
  • Position your right leg forward, foot flat on the floor, knee bent.
  • Extend your left leg straight back, placing your heel flat on the floor. Don’t bend your back knee.
  • Lean into the wall until you feel the stretch in the calf of the straight leg. Breathe deeply: inhale and exhale.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides. 

Lower calf (Soleus)

  • After doing this with the back leg straight, slightly bend the back knee and keep your heel on the ground. You should feel the stretch shift down to the lower calf towards the achilles tendon.

2. Achilles Stretch

  • Sit with back supported, your legs extended, and your knees straight.
  • Loop a towel around the foot of the Achilles Tendon to be stretched.
  • Hold each end of the towel in each hand, with your hands positioned above your knees.
  • Pull back with the towel so that your foot stretches toward you.
  • Hold the position for at least 15 to 30 seconds and breathe! 

3. Quad Stretch

  • Stand on one foot and grab the other shin (or your shoelaces) lifting the other leg up, by bending the knee, behind you.
  • Tuck your pelvis in, pull your shin or shoelaces towards your butt (the glutes).
  • Make sure your knee is pointing to the ground, under your hip.
  • Breathe while holding 7 to 20 seconds.

4. Standing Hip Circles/Sways

  • Stand with feet hip-distance apart, knees slightly bent.
  • Shift your weight from foot to foot, making sure to keep your feet on the floor.
  • Eventually, start rotating your pelvis in a circle.
  • Keep your core engaged, by drawing your abs inward. This will help to protect your back.
  • Complete 5 circles in one direction and then switch, breathing.

5. Doorway Stretch

  • Stand near a doorway and lift your arm, resting your elbow on the doorframe at a 90 degree angle.
  • Grab on to the frame of the door and gently lean forward. 
  • You should feel your chest stretching. Inhale and exhale: keep breathing.
  • Hold for 30 seconds, then switch and do the other side.

6. Towel Stretch *Be very gentle, do not attempt if you suffer shoulder pain.

  • Grab a kitchen/dish towel and bend one arm over your head, feeding the towel down your back.
  • Bend the other arm around and up your back to grab the loose end of the towel.
  • Pull the towel up and down while maintaining tension while breathing. 
  • Repeat three to five times consecutively and switch sides. 

7. Seated Torso Twists *Do not attempt if you have osteoporosis.

  • Sit up tall on your sits bones on a firm chair.
  • Inhale and raise both arms overhead, keeping your core engaged and spine supported.
  • Exhale as you twist your body to one side and letting your arms come down.
  • Keep both hips on the chair.
  • Inhale as you untwist and bring your arms back overheard.
  • Exhale and switch direction of your twist.
  • Repeat 5x.

8. Seated Lateral Stretch:

  • Sit up tall on your sits bones on a firm chair.
  • Reach one arm up overhead and the other arms down towards the floor.
  • Draw your abs in, in order to engage your core, rather than your superficial lower back.
  • Reach up with the arm that is extended up as though you’re trying to touch the ceiling.
  • At the same time, reach down with the opposite arm, as though you are trying to touch the floor.
  • Inhale and exhale, feeling your ribs expand.
  • Keep your hips down on the chair.
  • Switch arms and repeat. Keep breathing. 

Taking simple precautions like: warming up, scheduling breaks, hydrating, and stretching, can help make your holiday that much brighter. You’ll be better able to feel physically present and emotionally available by fostering your mind/body connection. Take care, be merry, and have fun!

Happy holidays from everyone at Pongo Power!