Of the 3 types of training; cardiovascular, strength and flexibility, stretching is always the first to go; especially on a busy day. We get to the gym and head straight for the cardio machines making sure we get a good sweat going. We hit the weights and then it’s sayonara until next time. Oh and the 30 seconds you spend doing a quick hamstring/calf stretch isn’t doing you much good. If you want stretching to be effective then you have to put a little more time and effort into it. But who am I to judge? I’m guilty of it too. I may do more than 30 seconds but certainly not enough to relieve the muscle fatigue and soreness I feel after teaching several classes. For me, taking on more classes means I have to be extra good to my body and make more time to fit flexibility training into my schedule. With that said, this is a perfect goal for May. I’d like to get in at least 10 minutes of stretching every day.
So now that I’ve convinced myself, how do I convince you to make the time? Well let’s start by going over the many reasons why you should stretch.
Benefits of a Good Stretch
We stretch to improve our flexibility. The more flexibility we have, the more freely our joints move through their full range of motion. Stretching, we'll refer to it as flexibility training here, has many benefits to include…
Increases range of motion at the joint
Decreases muscle tension
Corrects muscle imbalances
Relieves stress at the joints
Increases circulation to the body
Delays the onset of muscle soreness
Optimizes functional movement in daily life
Enforces good posture
Likely there is at least one thing here that you could improve on. Decide which one that is and keep it in your forethoughts for motivation. Now let’s get into the nitti gritty, when and how you should stretch.
F.I.T.T. Guidelines for Flexibility Training.
Now that we’ve decided that we want to stretch, what is the proper way to do it? The F.I.I.T. guidelines will tell us.
Frequency: Aim for 5-7 times a week, especially after exercise.
Intensity: Stretch to the point of mild discomfort, never to the point of pain.
Time: The rule of thumb is 10-15 minutes at a time holding each stretch for 30 second or so. This may vary slightly depending on the type of stretching that you do.
Type: The most common types of stretching are self myofascial release (think foam roller), dynamic stretching (shoulder rolls, leg swings & body weight squats), static stretching (touching your toes, or any instance where you fully lengthen the muscle and hold it) and active stretching (commonly used in Yoga). There are a few more types but we'll save those for another time.
And here are a few things to keep in mind as you stretch.
Tips for a Better Stretch
- Always stretch when your muscles are warm. After exercise or a hot shower is ideal. Stretching while your muscles are cold then will increase your risk of muscle pulls or tears.
- Don't bounce. As you stretch your muscles need time to adjust, relax and lengthen. Normally this takes about 30 seconds to happen. Quick bouncy motions will only tighten your muscles more so hence increasing your risk of injury.
- Be sure to breathe. Take deep breaths in through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Controlled breathing will relax you allowing you to get a better stretch
- Avoid locking out your joints. Keep a slight bend in your knees and elbows to avoid added stress to your joints
- Never stretch to the point of pain. Over time you'll do more harm than good.
If you're following me on Twitter then you've probably noticed that I've already started to work on my new goal. I have 2 races coming up this month so the timing couldn’t be more perfect. The first is on Sunday, a 5 miler to support HAWC, Healing Abuse, Working for Change. The next is on May 20th, the 2012 Run-Walk to Home Base. I will have the honor of crossing home plate at Fenway in support of our local troops. These are great causes and I am super excited to be a part of both!
As I mentioned earlier my goal is to get in at least a 10 minute stretch a day. This will include either foam rolling, static stretching or a combination of both. I'll be tweeting about it using the hash tag #DailyStretch. I'm doing this for the month of May with hopes of making it a habit. I'm off to a strong start; averaging about 15 minutes a day. If you’d like to make stretching a part of your daily routine you are welcome to join me. Send me a tweet every time you stretch using the same hash tag #DailyStretch.
If you are just tuning into my blog allow me to fill you in. As my New Year’s Resolution I declared that I would work toward a new goal for every month in 2012. In January I decluttered my apartment. In February/March I took an average of 13,000 steps a day for 6 weeks as part of the EmowHer BodyMedia FITness challenge. And last month I focused on sleep.
How often do you stretch?
That’s it for now. And remember to live fit, be healthy and love life.