Some kids and adults are naturally more flexible than others. However, I am not one of them. In high school, I was on the dance team and we were required to do dozens of high kicks, several leg splits and many other moves that had our body twisted in unnatural positions. Since I wasn’t very flexible there was one key element that I had to include in my daily routine to rock at these moves…STRETCHING.
My dance team days are over (ask my kids, I still have the moves) but stretching continues to play an important role in my workout. Stretching can elevate your workout performance. It also accelerates the recovery process from strenuous exercise and general daily activities. As we age our bodies become less flexible. Stretching can help with your range of motion; reduce muscle strain risk and tension in our body.
Here are some great tips that have benefited me in my stretching techniques and reduced risk of injury. Like any physical activity you should always check with your doctor or physical therapist if you have limitations or current injuries.
Best time to stretch: I find it beneficial to do a light warm-up. The warm-up assists in my flexibility and reduce muscle soreness. I will typically take 5-10 minutes doing a very light pace on the bike, treadmill or arc trainer. I set the machine at the lowest settings during this warm up. Some research suggests that it’s best to avoid any further stretching prior to your workout as that can decrease performance. After the workout the muscles are warmed up so this is when I do a majority of my stretching. I also find it beneficial to take a mid-day break at my computer to stretch and clear my mind. It recharges me for the afternoon.
Muscles I like to stretch: I focus on muscles that feel tight or that I use frequently. Cardio is part of my daily routine so I focus on my calves, thighs and hamstrings. Stretching the muscles in my shoulders and neck help prevent stiffness that comes with sitting in front of the computer for hours each day. What muscles groups can you focus on to relieve tightness in your body?
Helpful Tips to Maximize the Benefits of Stretching:
*Don’t bounce during a stretch. It should be slow and smooth movements.
*Stretch both sides. If you stretch your left leg then do your right leg as well.
*Hold a stretch from anywhere between 25-60 seconds.
*Breathe normally through the stretch.
*Stretching should not be painful. Expect some tension in the stretch but if it’s too painful you may need to back off a little.
*Yoga, tai chi and other slow movement routines can be a great option for optimal stretching.
What do you currently do to improve your flexibility?