Why Stretch? Why Not?
We constantly hear about the importance of cardio workouts to improve heart health. But what about our other muscles? They are just as important! No matter your fitness level, we should all be stretching daily as regular stretching not only improves flexibility but ensures independence! Muscle flexibility is necessary for optimal range of motion in the joints. When we’re stiff, our muscles shorten and become tight which leads to weakness and increased risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.
Well..another dose of honesty. I, Cindy Saylor have every good intention to stretch every day. I tell myself the night before, start your day with some stretches. Do I do it...? NO! What is it that I do not do what is good for me. When we know something is good for us, why do we ignore it? Hummmm...that sounds like another blog post. Back to stretching! Stretching is good for your brain. Make it part of your mental fitness plan. Which means...just do it! If you need more encourgagement, lets take a look at the benefits to stretching. types of stretches and different methods of stretching.
Get ready.....there is going to be a whole lot of stretchign going on.
There are many benefits associated with stretching. The top five benefits of stretching (according to the Mayo Clinic) include:
INCREASED FLEXIBILITY AND RANGE OF MOTION Flexibility can diminish as we age which is why it’s so important to maintain!
IMPROVED CIRCULATION By improving blood circulation, waste byproduct removal is improved.
BETTER POSTURE Stretching keeps muscles from getting tight (which in turn maintains posture and minimizes associated pain).
STRESS RELIEF Stretching relaxes tense muscles that often accompany stress.
ENHANCED COORDINATION Maintaining range of motion helps to maintain balance to keep you mobile.
Additional benefits may include: - Increased power - Increased endurance - More efficient neuromuscular activation - Increased speed of contraction - Improvements in mental preparedness
THIS IS WHY!
Low back pain is one of the most common conditions that stretching can improve. Long days spent sitting shortens and tightens back muscles causing tension on joints.
Hips are another area subject to frequent tension. (We tend to hold a lot of stress in the hips, so simple hip opener stretches can help reduce tension and soreness.)
Tight hamstrings are a common complaint. Even with regular stretching, hamstrings can take years to loosen; however, regular stretching will improve flexibility which can also reduce low back issues.
The neck and shoulders are other common offenders. Cell phone use has also become an issue, with many people spending hours hunched over playing games or surfing the web on their cell phone. Stress can also be held in the shoulders.
Thankfully, frequent stretches throughout the day can help improve tightness and improve posture.
"Choose stretching over stressing." Buddha
It’s important to keep in mind that a single stretch session won’t magically improve flexibility. A daily stretching routine will deliver the best benefits, though, stretching at least 3-4 times a week can also be beneficial. Time and patience are key. Muscles didn’t tighten overnight, so expecting huge results after a single session isn’t realistic. It can take weeks even months to get flexible, and as long as you remain committed, you will achieve your goals.
The good news is you don’t have to stretch every single muscle every day. The muscles to focus on include: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis, your quadriceps in the front of the thigh You may also want to include stretches for the neck, shoulders, and low back.
Remember, you don’t want to stretch muscles before they are warmed up, so either stretch after your workout or following a light walk!)
4 TYPES of STRETCHES
Static stretching is the act of holding a comfortable but stretched position for 10 to 30 seconds. This is the most common form of stretching. Static stretching is a useful post-workout cooldown.
Tips: Spend 5-10 minutes following a workout. Lengthen the targeted muscle and hold for at least 15-20 seconds for 1 to 2 rounds. As flexibility improves hold stretches for longer. Stretch both sides equally. Never stretch to the point of pain, you should feel the stretch, but it shouldn’t hurt. Don’t hold your breath; breathing will help you relax deepening the stretch.
Dynamic stretching requires more thoughtful coordination than static stretching and takes soft tissues to their full length and rather than holding it. Dynamic stretching is performed by controlled, smooth, and deliberate movement. Dynamic stretches should be performed daily and pre-workout to improve flexibility, range of movement, and increase blood and oxygen flow to your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Pre-activity dynamic stretching exercises have been shown to improve performance requiring power, strength, or speed.
Tips: Start with the joint in a neutral position. Using a slow controlled movement, extend to the end range of movement then slowly return to neutral with an eccentric contraction.
Repeat movement 10 to 12 times however, dynamic stretching is more important for improving range of motion for functional movement, including sports and the activities of daily living.
The technique of PassiveStretching employs the use of outside assistance. This assistance could be your body weight, a strap, leverage, gravity, another person, or a stretching device. During passive stretching, the muscle remains relaxed and utilizes the external force to hold you in place. Passive stretches are suitable for cooling down after a strenuous workout program. Passive stretching is a very safe technique as it does not involve abrupt movements.
Active stretching is the process of stretching a muscle by actively contracting the muscle in opposition to the one you’re stretching. This kind of stretching can take some practice because of the muscular force required to generate the stretch. Active stretching is also considered to be low risk as you are controlling the stretch force with your own strength (rather than an external force like in passive stretching).
Stretching is for Everyone
Deep stretching is best following a workout or otherwise after warming up the muscles. Ways to incorporate dynamic stretching into your warm-up include: - Lunges - High kicks - Pushups - Jump squats Any activity engaging the same muscles you will be using during your workout are appropriate. Post workout stretching should reduce tension to return muscles to a relaxed state as this is the time for deeper stretches that can be held for longer or static stretching.
STRETCHING AT WORK
Stretching at work can give you a quick boost and help prevent injury from repetitive motion. Begin with simple overhead-arm stretches, followed by stretches to engage your upper and lower back, neck, and shoulders. Try taking a short walking break and do a few leg and calf stretches. A few squats can really get the blood pumping.
STRETCHING while PREGNANT
Since stretching can keep you feeling your best and is easy on the body, it’s important to stretch regularly during pregnancy. The body is placed under stress due to the rapid weight gain associated with pregnancy which can cause undue stress on the joints. Keeping muscles lean and lengthened will improve comfort as extra weight is added.
Muscles to target: Upper back, Lower back, Leg, Hips Move slowly through stretches, listen to the body, and don’t push to the point of pain.
STRETCHING for SENIORS
Maintaining flexibility is the goal for seniors as balance will improve with flexibility which will promote safety and reduce the risk of injury during daily activities. The recommended amount of stretching for seniors is a minimum of three times per week for at least 20 minutes to improve mobility. Individuals who’ve had surgery (such as hip or back surgery) should talk to their healthcare provider so they can receive specific guidance to avoid aggravating past injuries.
When starting a new regimen: Start slow, Utilize props for support such as a chair, Build up to longer hold times, Breathe through stretches instead of holding the breath.
Methods of Stretching
NECK EXTENSION Slowly pull your head back and slightly tuck your chin to place your head directly above your shoulders. Slowly tilt your head back looking up at the ceiling. Gentle rotate your head right and left 3 - 4 times to bring your neck all the way to end range. Stop when a stretch is felt in the muscles in the front of your neck - Hold for a count of ten - Repeat 5 times
NECK FLEXION - Slowly tuck your chin and look down at your toes. Place one hand on the back of your head and gently apply weight to deepen until a stretch is felt. Hold for a count of ten - Repeat 5 times
NECK ROTATION - Slowly turn your head to look over your left shoulder. Place one hand on your right cheek to gently deepen until a stretch is felt on the right side of your neck. Hold for a count of ten - Repeat 5 times - Repeat in the opposite direction
CHIN RETRACTIONS - Move your chin forward, then slowly pull it back by slightly tucking it in toward your throat while keeping chin parallel to the floor - Repeat hourly up to 10 times
SHOULDER ROLLS - Start in proper alignment. Roll shoulders up, then back, then down in a fluid motion. Repeat this movement about 10 times - Reverse movement, rolling forward about 10 times
COW-FACE POSE - Reach right arm straight up. Bend the right elbow to let your hand fall behind your head. Move left arm behind the back with elbow bent in the direction of the hips and hand reaching for right hand. Reach to grab right fingertips with the left hand, grab a towel if flexibility doesn’t allow reach - Repeat on the other side
ARM CIRCLES - Standing with arms out to a T, make big, slow circles with your arm. --Repeat 10 times in each direction while maintaining good posture
OVERHEAD REACH - Sit up as straight and reach both arms overhead with fingers interlocked. Press your hands straight up toward the and hold this for 20 to 30 seconds repeat three times To target sides of your back: Press your hands toward the ceiling then lean over to one side. Stop when you feel a stretch along the opposite side of your back. - Repeat in the other direction
TOWEL STRETCH - Roll a towel and place it sideways on the ground. Lie on your back with the towel at the level of your shoulder blades. Raise your arms overhead and rest them on the ground. Lie in an extended position for 30 to 60 seconds, then bring your arms back down and relax - Repeat three times
BICEPS STRETCH - Clasp your hands behind your back while in a standing position. Straighten your elbows and rotate your shoulders slightly. Bend forward to allow hands to move upwards toward your head. Angle hands upward, to point toward the ceiling.
.FOREARM FLEXOR AND EXTENSOR STRETCH - Extend your left arm in straight in front of you with your palm facing the floor. Bend your wrist back toward you with your right hand to pull fingers and increase the stretch - Hold for 30 seconds - Lift your arm to shoulder level and bend your left wrist toward the floor
LOW BACK STRETCHES
KNEE TO CHEST - Lie flat on your back with toes pointed up. Slowly bend your right knee and pull your leg into your chest. Wrap your arms around your thigh, knee or shin to gently pull the knee in for a deeper stretch. Hold for 20 seconds then slowly extend the leg - Repeat three times with each leg
KNEE TWIST - Lie on your back with your legs extended straight out. Bend the right knee up and cross it over the left side of your body. Rotate until you to feel a gentle stretch through the back and buttocks muscles. Hold for 20 seconds - Repeat three times on each side
YOGA CAT/COW - Start from an all fours position (hands beneath your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips). As you exhale and gently arch your spine. As you inhale tighten your core muscles and round your back (like a cat). Move slowly between breaths holding each position for 5-10 seconds - Repeat 10 times
LYING HIP ROTATIONS - Lie on your back with both knees bent. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Move in and out of the stretch by rotating the hip in and out. Use your hand for assistance to press into the knee.
PIRIFORMIS STRETCH - Cross one leg over the opposite leg keeping knee crossed over the thigh. Pull the crossed knee toward your opposite shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch. Repeat on opposite side
BUTTERFLY STRETCH - From a seated posture bend legs to touch feet in front of the body. Gently press knees down toward the ground using hands. For a deeper stretch move heals closer to body PIGEON
STRETCH - Start with your front knee bent to a 90-degree angle. The back knee can be as bent or extended as is comfortable for you. Rotate the back hip toward the front heel and the back foot. Keep the chest tall and bend slightly forward until a stretch is felt.
QUAD - Start by standing with your side to the wall, placing a hand on the wall for balance. Hold your outside foot with your outside hand and lift the foot up toward your rear end, keeping your thighs and knees together to feel a gentle stretch in the front of the thigh - Hold for 20 seconds then repeat on the other side
HAMSTRING/CALF STRETCH - Place your right foot in front of you. Hinge at the waist pushing your chest forward toward the extended right leg while bending your left knee. Slowly flex your right ankle so that your toes are pulling up toward your body - Hold for 20 seconds then repeat on the other side
INNER THIGH STRETCH - Stand with a very wide stance. Bend your right knee as you shift your entire body right until you feel a stretch in your left inner thigh. Hold for 20 seconds then repeat on the other side then shift your weight to the other side and repeat with the left leg.
FOOT AND ANKLE UP AND DOWN - Move your foot and ankle up and down as far as you can go without pain - Repeat 10 – 20 times provided the exercise is pain-free FOOT AND ANKLE IN AND OUT - Move your foot and ankle in and out as far as you can go without pain - Repeat 10 – 20 times provided the exercise is pain-free FOOT AND ANKLE CIRCLES - Move your foot and ankle in a circle as large as possible and comfortable without pain - Repeat 10 – 20 times provided the exercise is pain-free
CLENCHED FISTS - While seated place your open hands on your thighs with palms up - Close your hands slowly into fists without clenching too tightly - With your forearms touching your legs raise your fists off of your legs and back toward your body bending at the wrist - Hold for 10 seconds - Lower your fists and slowly open your fingers wide - Repeat 10 times DESK PRESS - While seated, place your palms face up under a desk or table - Press upwards against the bottom of the desk - Hold for 5 to 10 seconds FIGURE EIGHTS - Interlace your fingers in front of your body - Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides move your interlaced hands in a figure eight motion - Allow your wrists to rotate fully so that each hand is alternately on top of the other - Perform this exercise for 10 to 15 seconds - Rest and then repeat
COMMON STRETCHING MISTAKES
Not warming up before stretching (Muscles should be warmed up to avoid injury. Warm up with a slow to a brisk walk before diving into stretches.)
Not stretching enough (Just like stretching cold muscles can cause injury, so can working out muscles without stretching. Make sure to stretch regularly and often!)
Not paying attention to your breathing (One of the most common mistakes is holding the breath. This causes muscles to tense instead of relaxing. Breathing ensures a proper balance of oxygen in the body so make sure you are inhaling through the nose to purify the air entering the lungs.)
Stretching injured muscles (Overworking and stretching an injured muscle can worsen or prolong the injury. Injured muscles need adequate time to rest to heal.)
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