When your cat or dog wakes up from a snooze have you ever noticed the stretching that goes on? Animals instinctively know they need to stretch to lengthen stiff muscles and stay limber. Maybe us humans should take a lesson from our pets!
Stretching is often the missing component of a person’s fitness program. It is overlooked because many people see it as being a waste of time or of no value. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Whenever I design a program for a client to do on their own I try to figure out whether they are the type of person to enjoy stretching or if they are the majority of people that will blow off the stretch more often than not. The best advice I can give is to think of stretching as an integral part of your workout. Plan to dedicate at least ten minutes to your flexibility program per workout.
The purpose of stretching is to increase or optimize joint mobility while maintaining stability within the joint. Some of the benefits you can expect from regular stretching include: relaxation, better posture, increased blood circulation, less muscle soreness or tension, and of course an increase in joint range of motion. Most athletes report better performance due to flexibility training.
As we get older our muscles become tighter, thereby decreasing our joint mobility. A simple but consistent stretch program, done correctly can actually help to make functions of daily living easier and lessen the chances of injury! Most people think of stretching as something they need to do at the gym when they finish working out. While this is definitely true, there are lots of other times and places where stretching would be beneficial as well. Think of how stiff you can get when you sit at your computer for hours, or watch television. Many people say they are stiffest when they get out of bed in the morning. I don’t think there are too many bad times to stretch, except maybe when you’re driving!
Just as there are dos and don’ts with other fitness components, you should be careful to follow some safety guidelines when it comes to stretching. The first thing is to warm yourself up before you start. Cold joints and muscles are susceptible to injury. You should spend at least five minutes performing some type of cardiovascular activity before engaging in a flexibility program. Don’t overdo it! If you think you should pull hard until something snaps you’re wrong! The idea of stretching is to gradually increase tension but certainly not to the point of pain. We use the expression ‘mild tension’ which means you should feel a gentle pull but nothing sharp.
The formula: let’s use the F.I.T.T. principle.
F – Frequency – every day or after each workout
I – Intensity – mild tension, not pain. If your muscle starts shaking, back off and after a break try with a less intense range of motion. Ease into the stretch gradually.
T – Time – 20 to 30 seconds per major muscle group
T – Type – static – meaning no bouncing. Also remember not to lock your joints.
Stretches are great for tight muscle groups like your neck, shoulders, chest, hamstrings, low back, hip flexors, quadriceps and calves. Each person will have specific muscle groups that they should dedicate more time to.
Ask your doctor or health professional about appropriate stretches if you are injured or have an illness or condition in your muscles or joints. People that have had joint replacements should seek medical advice with regards to stretching.
Don’t worry if you try to stretch but notice you are quite tight. Your flexibility will improve over time if you keep at it. If you allow yourself to relax you can actually learn to love stretching and feel its many benefits. I am not stretching the truth about this – not by any stretch of the imagination!