Sarah's Top 3

A question I get asked a lot - what are the best exercises to do?


This is a loaded question because the answer may be different depending on the individual.

However, these are 3 exercises that I think most people would benefit from if they did them regularly and tried to bring them into everyday practice.


I will explore the details and variations of these 3 exercises, but you could spend 5 mins going through them. The idea is that a “little bit often” is a beneficial thing to bring into bodies, for movement nutrition. 5 minutes done every day, versus 35 minutes once a week, may well be more beneficial in your body


There’s lots of options – but these are my top 3 picks. Watch the video to follow along with me on the mat, or continue reading below!




1. BREATHWORK


So simple it’s often overlooked. So accessible to all. Just because you breathe all day, every day doesn’t mean you can’t improve your efficiency and the positive influence of breath.


Set up in lying, knees bent and a pillow under the head.


Inhale through the nose, exhale out of the mouth.


Couple of rounds. Just observe your breath


Now gently close the lips, inhale through your nose, exhale out of your nose. Keep nasal breathing going.


Place hands on your lower ribs, inhale and look to feel movement of the ribs sideways and into your back.


Exhale, sink and connect the ribs towards the belly, towards the pelvis – front, side and back.

With your hand pressure encourage the sink down and in towards belly button on the exhale, and then breathing into that pressure outwards and into the mat.


Explore mid volume, low volume and big volumes of air.


If your belly is naturally moving with your breathwork, that’s a good thing in this supported position.


Observe the belly movement connected to breath rather than force it. Soften/relax the belly if it is not moving and do a few rounds of belly breathing. This encourages easing of the abdominal, pelvic floor and back muscles that may create tension and discomfort in your lower back.


Now consciously move to diaphragmatic (or postero-lateral) breathing. Remember to try and stay with nasal breathing in and out through your nose with lips gently closed.


Aim to keep the belly still so you just feel the breath expanding the ribs sideways and backward. Try to limit the raising up of your front ribs and breastbone. Stilling the belly just means you’ve got background deep core muscle activation. You won’t necessarily feel a pull on or in those muscles, just gently still the belly – that’s all you’re looking for.


Then do the same breathing and place the arms down on the mat. Feel a bit more width across the shoulder girdle. Do this with knees bent so the back is relaxed/quiet/soft, to encourage easing of some postural muscle activity and/or overactivity.


Do a few two more rounds of breathing, exploring that idea of rib excursion, creating space between each rib space. Whether it’s a deep breath, or a mid-volume breath, or a low volume breath. Fill from the base up, rather than top down.


Diaphragmatic nasal breathing is the ideal habit to build for everyday breathing due to the positive impact is has on the body. Having a dedicated breath practice will enhance this form of breathing and start to create a positive breath habit. The influence of breath is far reaching within the body.


If you’d like to explore further look out for our breath blog coming soon!


2. ARTICULATING BRIDGE (Skip to 04:14 in the video)


This exercise comes into every therapeutic movement class I teach because it is so beneficial to most by moving the spine and opening the hips and shoulders to undo the tightness, stiffness, and weakness many of us develop from sitting too much.

Articulating bridge is a rolling movement through your spine to get to the top of the bridge, and to roll back down. Let’s explore the four components of a bridge.


Pelvic tilting

The first is making sure the lower back is moving easily and quietly, without load, through an easy pelvic tilt.

Start laying on your back with knees bent, feet and knees hip distance apart, and look for an easy rock toward the top of the pelvis curling the tailbone under whilst rounding the lower back. Then return through the middle and rock to the bottom of the pelvis reaching the tailbone long and down.

How does your back feel? If there’s any catching, reduce the range. Decrease the muscle activity as much as you can. Quieten down the movement. And then explore that range. If there’s a range that doesn’t feel great for you, talk to your physio and get some advice.

If it feels ok, move to the second component


Low Bridge

Take the rounded easy pelvic tilt to a low bridge by lifting the buttocks just off the mat and rolling up a small way. Keep the back ribs in contact with the mat, maintain the leg alignment and then roll back down, ease out of the pelvic tilt.

As you roll up feel spinal elongation, just a bit of activity in the muscles of the buttocks and back of the legs and opening through the front of the hips. Inhale and pause then roll down to the starting position. Notice the easing of muscle activation as you roll down to your pelvic tilt and ensure the buttock muscles are quiet at the base. Exhale to round and roll up. Pause, inhale at the top and feel the spine elongate and hips open. Exhale, roll down and maintaining length and space.

Go slowly so you feel all the vertebral joints and encourage them to open up. Notice there is a changing activation load, depending on where you are in the movement. Sequential build and sequential de-activation. That’s very important.

If the low bridge feels ok, move to the full bridge


Full bridge

In a full bridge aim for a diagonal line from the shoulders to the knees, including the ribs and hips. This enhances balanced muscle activation- front, back and sides of the spine. Avoid arching the back and popping the ribs as this over activates the back muscles. Continue the exhale with the rolling action from pelvic tilt through low to full bridge, pause to inhale at the top then exhale and roll down.



Explore pelvic tilt, low bridge, mid bridge, high bridge. Look for that diagonal line. Reach the knees over the toes, curl the tail bone under. Inhale, then as you exhale, roll down. How many vertebrae and ribs attached to those vertebrae, can you move on the way up and down?


How much subtle, sequential activation can we have in those muscles at the front of the spine, with the hips to lift the spine up. How much length, and ease with control can we create on our way back down. Let go of what this looks like. How does it feel in your body?

If your back is stiff bridging may be a very beneficial exercise for you. Never force the movement but encourage it over time. A little bit of gentle movement often aims to enhance spinal mobility, ease soft tissue tension, activate deeper stability muscles and enhance teams of muscles to work more efficiently together. That little bit of extra pliability through your musculoskeletal system will support the nervous system as well.


3. BOOK OPENINGS (Skip to 10:04 in the video)


A favourite of mine and many clients.


Book openings create rotation through the inherently stiff upper part of the spine between your neck and lower back - the thoracic spine. Rotational movement in this area of the spine is beneficial for lots of daily activities and rotational sports like tennis and golf. Mobility in the thoracic spine reduces load on the neck and lower back as well as the shoulders.


Start lying on your side with a neck pillow/folded towel under your ear and behind. Place your hands at your ears with elbows forward. Knees are bent, feet are in line with the hips and shoulders. The alignment is very important, so that as you move you are doing so around an organised aligned spine.


Start by lifting the elbow up, open the elbow, open the torso, follow the movement with your head, and keep the hips stacked.


If this feels strong or overdone in the shoulder, just draw that elbow up. Don’t go for broke, feel a few of these movements.


Inhale to prepare in the start position, exhale to open. Inhale to pause, exhale to close. Let the arm lead the movement, but not drag you open. Then let the ribs and the spinal mobility create the movement.


Feel as you go the head is supported on the neck pillow or the towels behind.


Note if the top hip falls back, and the knees open, try and stack them the top hip on the underside hip and keep the knees together. This will facilitate organisation and control through oblique muscles at the front of the belly, close to the spine, and then you may well increase more thoracic rib movement.


If the shoulder is uncomfortable do the book opening exercise with the top hand resting on the top rib. This is a good option as the shoulder may well be uncomfortable because of lack of thoracic movement.


Let's explore some variations of the book opening exercise:


Legs forward in 90/90

If you are a little bit tight in your lower back, it may be worth bringing the legs a little bit further forward. This anchors the pelvis and the lower back and may allow you to move a little further into range. Or it may just feel a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more ease down the back of the legs.

Exhale to open. Inhale to close.


Long lever book openings.

Start in the same position but stack one hand on top of the other with the arms straight out in front of you. This time it’s the top hand that opens up. Imagine there’s a connection between the hand and the breastbone as you open. Use the leverage of the arm to get more rotation of the thoracic spine. More rib mobility, more obliques, and then more arm opening, length, organisation. Reach that top leg forward knee to knee. Keep the waist nice and long.


Even if you’re doing this exercise well, there’s so much that you can get curious about where you can take this movement in your body.


Remember you can change the leg angle. Just feel the difference. A different bias to the same movement. Which one feels better in your body?


Move from the spine and the ribs, overflow to the arm in both directions versus move the arm to pull the spine. Think about the movement coming from the centre out, spreading that load. And then back. Look for a component of shoulder opening, without overdoing it

Remember to repeat on the other side.


IN SUMMARY


1. Breathwork. What is the influence of breath, just pure breathwork, on your whole body. It will often have a much bigger effect than you think. So give yourself time to just do breathwork on its own, in a supported position.


2. Articulating bridge. Rolling bridge, moving bridge. Start with low easy pelvic tilting. Roll up, roll down. Just explore that range of movement in your spine.


3. Book openings. Moving from thoracic spine, upper shoulder girdle and feel the effect through the rest of your body. Explore more detail and variations of book opening in the video presentation.


Don’t hesitate to reach out and speak to us, or your physio/movement therapist, if you experience discomfort that doesn’t settle or if you would like some individual guidance for yourself.


Have fun with them!