6 Exercises for Instant Stress Relief

Use these simple exercises to instantly and easily reduce stress

All too often, stress—or rather, reducing it—is an overlooked component of a healthy lifestyle.

Both acute stress (the kind associated with minor, everyday circumstances) and chronic stress (the kind that stems from more long-term or major concerns) have been known to increase certain hormones that can increase appetite, disrupt sleep and even promote fat storage.

“It’s sort of a double whammy because the type of fat that’s more likely to be stored is problematic from a health standpoint,” says Dr. Cedric Bryant, Chief Science Officer for the American Council on Exercise. “Stress signals the storage of visceral fat, which gets stored around the midsection deep within the abdominal region and around organs and is associated with an increased risk for things like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Essentially, high levels of constant stress can take a pretty large toll on your health, and if you have fitness goals, like losing weight or increasing your athletic performance, it could be hindering your progress.

Plus, for the simple fact that stress makes us feel anxious, flustered and irritable, it only makes sense that we’d want to limit its effects.

Luckily, exercise is one of the best ways to reduce and offset the negative effects of stress. But if you don’t have time for an entire workout, next time you’re feeling strained, tense or just generally overwhelmed, Kyle Stull, MS, LMT, a NASM certified personal trainer and master instructor suggests stopping for a short break with these six stress-busting exercises.

1. Foam Rolling

“The foam roller is designed for two specific purposes: first, the foam roller is used to reduce tension in specific muscle groups. Certain muscles, such as the calves, quadriceps  and the muscles of the upper-back are subject to unnecessary stress and may begin to feel ‘tight’ and limit motion,” said Stull. “This is often associated with low back and neck pain; second, the foam roller can be used to get things moving again. Due to modern lifestyles and less than ideal postures some areas, such as the hip flexors, just simply get stuck. The key is to roll slowly, about an inch per second, and stop on any areas that feel tender.  Hold on the tender spot for 20 to 30 seconds or until the tenderness starts to reduce.”

2. Calf Stretch

“The calves help control movement in the ankle and the ankle is the biggest joint closest to the ground. If the ankle can’t move correctly then every muscle and joint above the ankle will also not move correctly,” Stull explained. “Performing a calf stretch for 30 to 45 seconds can improve motion in the ankle and give the hips a better opportunity to do their job, thus reducing tension and stress in the knees, low back and even up to the neck.”

3. Quad Stretch

“The quadriceps are large powerful muscles and can very easily become overworked. Overactive and ‘tight’ quadriceps can reduce motion at the hip and decrease the ability of the large and powerful glutes to do their job,” said Stull. “Performing a kneeling quadriceps and hip flexor stretch for 30 to 45 seconds can add length back into the muscle group. When this muscle has optimal length, the hip can move the way it should, reducing the tension that may be felt in the low back, knees and possibly upper back.”

4. Neck Stretch


“Tension in the upper-back and neck can be tricky. Very rarely does the tension ever cause itself,” Stull explained. “What this means, is that if the back of your neck feels tense, there is probably another muscle that should be stretched. The upper trapezius are some of the most problematic muscles in the neck. Performing an upper trap stretch and holding for 30 to 45 seconds can help to increase shoulder and neck mobility, thus reducing tension and tightness felt in the neck.”

5. Upper-Back Rotations

“In many cases, the presence of low back and neck tension may be caused by a lack of motion in the part of the spine that connects them, the thoracic spine,” said Stull. “Due to poor posture, stress and improper breathing the ‘t-spine’ can become very immobile. Performing 10 to 12 t-spine rotations on each side can increase mobility and reduce the stress felt in the other areas.”

6. Glute Bridge

“The gluteus maximus is one of the largest and most powerful muscles in the body. Most people sit far too long whether they want to admit it or not, allowing these large muscles to basically be on vacation most of the time,” said Stull. “When these muscles don’t do their job, it forces some of the surrounding muscles, like the hamstrings and muscles of the low back, to pick up the slack. Performing 12 to 20 glute bridges can help to wake these muscles up and reduce the tension felt in the hamstrings and low back.” 

(images courtesy of Kyle Stull)

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