Lots of people love to exercise, which is great and lots of people don’t stretch…which is not so great. All the injuries I have ever sustained have been because of insufficient warming up and warming down. Why do we stretch though? It is one of thee most underrated and overlooked essentials to a great workout and maintaining a successful fitness level. If you aren’t limbering up, you need to make the effort to work it in to your schedule.
Why We Need To Stretch – Flexible Thinking
You may think of stretching as something performed only by Athletes in general. However, we all need to stretch in order to protect and maintain our mobility. A large portion of people don’t understand that stretching really has to happen on a regular basis and it should be daily.
Stretching keeps our muscles flexible, strong and healthy and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. When you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
There is nothing worse than feeling the elastic band “twang” of a hamstring go when working out and knowing your done for a large chunk of time.
It’s important to remember that stretching keeps your muscles long, lean and flexible. This means that exercise and movement won’t put too much force on the muscle itself. Healthy muscles also help with balance to avoid falls (It pays to be nimble).
Pushing To The Limit – How Much?
I know the thought of stretching before and after a workout seems like too much hassle, so to try to work a stretch routine into your fitness program is an even more unlikely option. Our bodies which operate like a well oiled machine but with muscles need regular maintenance to keep us working smoothly. The thing is, you don’t have to turn into a stretch fiend for this to happen, you don’t have to stretch every muscle you have.
The areas critical for mobility are mostly in the lower part of the body and they include your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis, The iliotibial band (IT Band) that runs down the outside of your leg from hip to knee and quadriceps in the front of the thigh. Making time to Stretch your shoulders, neck and lower back is also required. Aim for a program of daily stretches or at least three or four times per week.
Start Off Slow And Never Push It
Stretching once in a blue moon won’t magically give you perfect flexibility. You’ll need to do it over time and remain committed to the process. If it’s taken you a few months to get tight muscles, you’re not going to be flexible after one or two sessions of stretching. It’s going to take weeks to months to get flexible again and you’ll have to continue working on it to maintain suppleness long term.
A good place to start is with a hamstring stretch. The way I prefer to do them is to stand facing the wall, put the leg you want to stretch at a 45 degree angle against the skirting board and then place your arms above your head with palms on the wall. Next rest your forearms on the wall and simply lean towards the wall and hold for 30 seconds.
This will give you steady and manageable stretch by isolating the muscle in question without pulling on your lower back. Now swap your legs, always remember to exhale as you lean into the stretch, then repeat twice more on each leg.
A couple of things I use to help when I have a tight muscle is the use of a rubber roller and a massage gun. Both of these are great for pinpointing knots and working them out. Sometimes using them can be painful and caution is advised, but using these will definitely loosen and relax tight area’s.
Posture Correction Is Worth A Mention
Lets stop for a second and think about how pulling a muscle can really be the start of a never ending cycle of pain, mental torment and a reduction in overall health. Its not just about prevention of injury as, stretching can play a key role at improving your posture. Tight muscles can cause poor posture. Have you ever looked in the mirror and realized how tense those shoulders are? Stop and relax your shoulders, this can make a huge difference visually and you may even feel the tension fade. The muscles of the chest, back (both lower and upper), and hips can cause poor posture if they are tight. Many of us spend long periods of our day sitting at a computer or looking at some kind of device. The position that is typical with these activities (rounded shoulders and forward head) is a position of poor posture. We can improve on this by stretching the pectorals, upper trapezius, and hamstring muscles, to name a few. There is a simple way to help with rounded shoulders and that is with a posture corrector. This will pull the shoulders back and align the spine.
Another issue to consider is how a tight muscle may cause poor posture and through pain consciously or subconsciously, may force the body to try to compensate to protect the tight muscle. When it does this the long term effects can very painful, as the body will have to work harder for mobility. This may cause the body to twist and contort to function. With anything like this, its crucial you get the issue resolved rapidly by having a solid physiotherapy schedule to get back to optimum health, as the longer its left the more serious the damage could be.
Take a look at how professional athletes train and how much time is spent on stretching and warming up before the big competition. You can’t afford to train and not stretch, maybe if you are younger and are still very pliable you don’t think its worth considering. However, don’t wait till you get an injury to make that change. Regular and light stretching can not only prevent injury but it can increase longevity in your dedicated art or sport, as well as better performance.
Disclaimer – with any exercises, stretches, the use of rollers or massage guns, please seek the advice from your GP before trying the above.