The Self-Care Practices Gabby Douglas Wishes She Started Years Ago

Throughout the pandemic, stretching has become an integral part of Douglas' self-care routine — and not just for its flexibility-boosting benefits.

Gabby Douglas Flexibility Interview
Photo: Getty Images

Over the course of her 14-year gymnastics career, Gabby Douglas' primary focus was keeping her physical health in tip-top shape. But between her rigorous training regimen and packed competition schedule, the Olympian admits her mental health hygiene may have fallen to the wayside; she says she never carved out the time to practice self-care or journal her feelings after a particularly demandingday, and as a result, never understood just how important it is to release all her built-up anxiety and tension.

"There was a lot of stress and pressure from so many different avenues — from myself, from the coaches, from the outside world, from the head coordinators," she tells Shape. "And so if I really had taken the time and just kind of released everything, I think mentally I would have been in an even better state to handle certain things, especially from the outside world and social media."

But during the mentally and physically exhausting pandemic, Douglas has become dead set on giving her mind and body the TLC they need — and it's made a huge difference in her mental health, she says. To calm her mind, Douglas says she turns on heressential oil diffuser, journals, and meditates, focusing on who she wants to be as a person, what she wants her life to look like, and how she can live it to the fullest. "Every single day, I'm like, 'Why didn't I do this when I was hardcore training?'" she jokes.

The backbone of her self-care routine, though, is stretching. Each morning and night, Douglas says she puts on some music and stretches out her joints and muscles, letting go of any mental or physical tension before she kicks off her day or hits the hay. And instead of following a set-in-stone routine, Douglas flows with whatever her body needs in the moment. If she's feeling extra energetic,she might perform stretches that are a bit more complex, such as a variation of plow pose. And if she feels like taking it easy, she'll opt for a few rounds of pike stretches, splits, and deep breaths, she explains. "It's really all about listening to your body and following your inner guide," adds Douglas. (

This flexibility-boosting routine not only allows Douglas to satisfy her craving to maneuver her body into "weird, twisted positions," but it also gives her the opportunity to explore her thoughts, problems, and identity, she says. And that's why the Olympian encourages everyone to make the time for the activity. "It's more than just stretching — it's really going outside yourself and just diving into who you are as a person," she explains. "I've had so many days in the past when I would just sit there mad, and now I'm like, 'OK, let's stretch, release the tension, and let's be one with the ground.' And honestly, it's amazing."

No matter how ~zen~ she becomes through her mindful stretching routine, though, Douglas can't shake that athlete mentality. Even during the pandemic, she hits up the gym or pushes through a different YouTube workout — whether it's HIIT, dance classes, trampoline sessions, Billy Blanks' boxing videos, or Pamela Reif's and MadFit's toning and sculpting workouts — pretty much daily.

And as a self-described "health nut," the Olympian relies on food — and her jam-packed pantry of spices, powders, oils, and teas — to help her body heal after those intense workouts and stretching sessions. Her must-have functional food: Tart cherry powder, which she takes in the morning and at night to promote muscle recovery and ease post-workout soreness, says Douglas, who recently partnered with Smoothie King to launch the brand's new line of collagen-containing Stretch & Flex smoothies, one of which contains the fruit.

"I'm just so into maximizing my performance [in workouts] and my daily life because I don't want to wake up fifty years from now and be aching and tight," she says. "I still want to be limber, so I'm doing everything I can in the natural sphere to maintain healthy joints, skin, hair, and even mental function...You don't always have to get this $500 gadget, this $30 roller to recover when you can literally get it from your food."

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