My top three post-practice stretches for guitarists

I thought I’d share with you today the three stretches that I now do after each and every practice session. Well, after most sessions anyway. Those sessions where I don’t do these stretches after I tend to notice a higher degree of tension in the time post-practice. Needless to say (but I’m going to say it anyway), those times when I do do the following stretches I feel marvellous! All stretched out, tension released, refreshed and re-energised. They’re good for getting the oxygenated blood flowing to the parts again after sitting down, focusing and concentrating, during your practice.

I’m sharing these exercises as they work for me – whether you choose to do these for yourself is entirely up to you, but please take account of your own physical condition and health before commencing them. If unsure don’t do them and/ or consult your doctor. Always consult a health professional if you have any lingering aches and pains or any unduly sharp pains during or after playing guitar.

Stretch #1 – The Back Roll

OK, so this first one isn’t really a stretch after all. It is a tension-reliever though and involves a the use of a hard foam roller to effectively crack your own back. It feels great!

I could try and explain the technique here (and thought better of filming myself lumbering around on the floor!), but check out this video instead – this chap demonstrates the technique very neatly, although I would recommend rolling a little more slowly perhaps than he is doing.

Stretch #2 – The Lumbar Twist

This one was inspired by my forays in to the world of yoga. Don’t worry it’s not some crazy, one-legged, balancing act. It’s actually a very gentle posture, that promotes release of tension in the spine through a gentle, supported twisting – lying down on your back on the floor your head and neck move one way, whilst the legs move the other with the position held for 10 – 30 seconds to really let the tension melt away.

Again, rather than me trying to explain further and/ or clamber around ungracefully for your viewing displeasure, check out this YouTube clip. The posture I’m on about starts around 1 minute 10 seconds in.

Stretch #3 – The Shoulder and Chest Stretch

This is a good one to round off a wee stretching session, as it brings you back up to standing and focuses on chest and shoulders. Standing with feet about hip width apart, put your hands behind your back, palms facing each other and interlock your fingers. Raise your interlocked hands up (not too far) and stretch – you should feel a nice gentle stretch across the front of the chest and shoulders. You can choose to put you head slightly forward as well to increase the stretch and stretch the back of the neck. You can also then gently tilt the head back to gently stretch the muscles in the front of the neck. This stretch, because of the interlocked hands, can also help with stretching out the wrists. If you want to stretch the wrists a little more turn your interlocked hands so your palms are facing outward. You’ll also get a nice wee stretch in the forearms with this too.

Another option is to stretch the chest and shoulders like so…

 

Alexander Technique – My Progress So Far

Alexander technique
Semi-supine position in Alexander technique (Photo credit: alanpfitch)

At the start of last month you’ll remember that I blogged about my first experience with Alexander Technique – a technique that teaches you to be more aware of tensions in the body and to release those tensions to allow the body to move and work more freely, easily and with greater efficiency. Check out that post here: https://classicalguitarnstuff.com/2012/12/05/alexander-technique-my-first-lesson/

Following my first week or two taking Alexander Technique (AT) lessons and practicing the semi-supine position on a daily basis, I began to become lot more aware of where I was holding tension in my body. I noticed I was holding tension in my jaw – and what a lot of tension there was there! After realising I was holding this tension, learning to notice it more (both in semi-supine position and in normal everyday situations) the feeling of release in the jaw and lower head was a revelation!! I likened it to that post-workout or post-run kind of feeling – like you’ve been working hard, putting your muscles through stress and strain and now you’ve stopped……Ahhhh!

I also noticed a similar tension through my shoulders, and noticed that they have a tendency to creep up around my ears when I’m in an uncomfortable or challenging situation (mentally rather than physically that is), or when I get excited, nervous or agitated. And knowing where this tension exists and when it may occur, or what may make it occur can help then to begin the process of reducing it. The act itself of noticing it begins to change  the habit.

So why is releasing tension in the body important for a guitarist?

Well, if your hand, arm, neck, shoulder or back muscles (even other muscles in other parts of the body, but these in particular) are unnecessarily tense and tight it’s:

  1. taking energy away from the actions you do want to make and the activity muscles you do want working for you
  2. puts pressure on various parts of the body, including the joints and spine which may lead to longer term issues
  3. does not allow you to give you your full self to playing the music as you are literally holding yourself back.

In terms of my playing, I’m noticing some really positive benefits of the AT. First up, I’ll lie in the semi-supine position before settling into some serious practice as it tunes me into my body, where tensions may lie, and relaxes me ready for practice. Then during practice I’m feeling a lot more relaxed through the head, neck, shoulders and arm, which makes practicing and playing much more enjoyable and means I can practice for longer periods of time. When I’m done practicing I also get down into the semi-supine position to help release any tensions that might have crept in and give the spine a rest from the pulling, pushing, tensions and pressures put on it through the rigours of practice.

I’ve done a couple of performances too since starting with AT and I’ve noticed it’s helped significantly with relaxation prior to and during the performance, which makes things a heck of a lot easier!

I have some more AT sessions coming up in January and I’ll keep you posted on my journey into relaxation!