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Prepare your mind and body for sleep with these nighttime exercise rituals

The best time to exercise is a personal matter – focused on that part of the day that offers a consistent, routine window of time. For some, this is the first thing in the morning before life intervenes. Others prefer to wait until after work to relieve stress before going home. It’s all good – but few people think much about pre-bedtime exercise routines that help speed recovery, improve sleep, and act as a workout replacement on busy days when there weren’t any regularly scheduled workouts.

These nightly relaxation rituals can be just as important as daily trips to the gym, the racetrack, or the swimming pool. Not only do they add to your overall fitness, but they also take care of your stress level and sleep pattern at this crucial time – right before bed. Here are six quick routines to consider before ending the day.

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1. Yoga

A full-blown yoga class can be as rigorous and challenging as any workout, but that’s not the goal here. Instead, we want to do a few motions to elongate and strengthen our muscles as we reset our posture from a day of sitting too much behind a desk or steering wheel.

Start with two rounds of cat / cow. Start on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees on the floor. Inhale and lower your chest as you push your hips and shoulder blades back into the cow position. Lift your chin and chest and look forward. For a cat, exhale as you pull your belly button toward your spine and curve your back toward the ceiling like a cat.

Next, perform the child’s pose. From a kneeling position, touch your big toes together and sit on your heels. Separate your knees about hip-width apart and place your torso between your thighs. Place your hands on the floor along your torso, palms up, with the front of your shoulders toward the floor. You should feel the weight of the front of your shoulders pull your shoulder blades way down over your back.

Man with an orange foam roller on his calf, close-upJust Life / Shutterstock

2. Foam rollers

This “arm-man massage” can work miracles: muscle cramps are smoothed out by deep compression. The compression causes the nerves to relax, stimulate blood flow, and help the body recover from the stresses of the day – including your exercise regimen. Think of your body like clay. The roller makes the clay softer so that tomorrow you can transform it into something more pliable and functional.

Foam rolls evolved 20 years ago when they were simply 18 inch rolls of tightly packed foam about 5 inches in diameter. Now they’re rigid, textured, and even come with vibration options. Whatever your preference, slide your sore muscles over the roller and hold the tender points for 30 seconds to flush out by-products, relieve sore muscles, and lengthen tense muscles. Use it anywhere you feel tense and need a massage.

Close up of the foot stretching with a tennis ball under the archnuiza11 / Shutterstock

3. Trigger points

Trigger point exercises work much like a foam roller, but they make it easier to isolate and loosen deeper tissues. Use a tennis ball, lacrosse ball, or other hard ball to perform self-massage exercises that work areas such as your iliotibial (IT) ligament, thoracic spine, and soles of your feet. Adjust your position on the ball until you find a sore “trigger” point. Hold the spot for 30 to 60 seconds. Keep as much body weight on the ball as possible. Don’t neglect your feet, which are hammered daily. Try different balls along your arches, from a golf ball to a lacrosse ball.

4. AIS stretching

Active-Isolated Stretching (AIS), developed by Aaron Mattes more than 40 years ago, requires a rope length of 2 to 10 feet, about the thickness of a skipping rope. Wrap the rope around your back, around one foot at a time, and perform a series of up, out, and body stretches that stimulate your muscles to relax and contract through new ranges of motion. You won’t hold the stretches for 10 to 30 seconds like you would with traditional stretching. Instead, at the end of a stretch, you use the rope to pull the muscle a little further than your body normally allows. Exhale during the support section to allow for a deeper stretch. Then pull the leg back to the starting position.

Man using a massage gun on quad muscles, close-upM-Production / Shutterstock

5. Massage gun

If foam rollers are the poor man’s massage, then a massage gun is the middle class man’s routine. These devices have proliferated in recent years and luckily the competition has lowered the price. The devices look like radar guns with a vibrating bullet (under optional attachments) on the end and have multiple speeds and settings. Use the gun anywhere you need a massage, including your back, neck, and shoulders.

Man sitting cross-legged on the bed doing breathing exercisesAvirut S. / Shutterstock

6. Breathing

A consistent sleep ritual that includes going to bed, having a dark room and turning off the electronics at least 30 minutes before turning off the lights is the key to falling asleep quickly and sleeping deeply. Breathing is too. Practice inhaling through your nose six times, holding them three times, and then exhaling through your nose six times. Repeat four times to relax your mind and body and induce sleep.

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