Friday, September 3, 2021

Stretching - When, Where, Why, And How

Often, the only time we stretch is when we are exercising. We don't bother with it any other time because we learned to do it when preparing to run or exercise or at the end.  Never at any other time.  Well, it  is appropriate at so many other times during the day that you might want to incorporate several stretching breaks throughout the day.  

First off, we need to stretch to keep our muscles flexible, healthy, and strong.  Flexible muscles help us maintain the range of motion in your joints which is extremely important. Otherwise, the muscles shorten thus tightening up so you can't touch your toes.

In addition, if your muscles shorten, it means that they are weakened and will not extend all the way so you are now at risk for muscle damage, joint pain, and strains.  If you have a job where you sit all day, your hamstrings at the back of the thigh are not being used so they shorten and tighten. This can make it harder for you to straighten your legs completely. 

Unfortunately, stretching only once is not going to give you the flexibility you need but you don't have to work every muscle in your body.  You should focus on your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors, and quadriceps in the front of the thighs to keep yourself in better shape. In fact, it will take weeks or even months of regular stretching to become flexible again.  It is a gradual process.

Before you start stretching, you need to warm up the muscles for 5 to 10 minutes by walking otherwise you could end up hurting yourself.  It is important to get the blood flowing through an area so the muscle fibers become more pliable.  When you stretch, you should hold the stretch for 30 seconds.  Do not bounce and hold the stretch so you feel tension but not pain.

There are different stretching routines one can use depending on the circumstances.  For instance, if you have an office job there are several exercises you can do at your desk beginning with the shoulder stretch.  In a shoulder stretch, you place one hand under the other elbow, lift the elbow and pull it across your body without turning the body.  Hold it 30 seconds and you should feel tension in the back of your shoulder, and then relax. Repeat on the other shoulder. 

Another exercise is the upper arm stretch where you lift one arm and bend it behind your head so you are touching the back of your shoulder. Place the other hand on the elbow and gently press to stretch your upper arm and shoulder.  Hold this position for 30 seconds before slowly relaxing and repeat on the other side. Then there is the chest stretch in which you place both hands on the back of the head at the neck.  Squeeze your shoulder blades together to bring your elbows as far back as possible.  Hold for 30 seconds, relax, before repeating one more time.

Next, try the chin tuck where you face forward, then lower your chin to your chest slowly.  Hold it there 30 seconds and you should feel tension in the back of your neck. Relax and repeat. Then do the head turn, where you begin facing forward.  Slowly turn your head to one side while keeping your shoulders facing forward.  Turn your head until you feel tension in the side of your neck and shoulders.  Hold for 30 seconds before returning to the original position.  Repeat on the other side. 

There is one more exercise for this area.  Face forward, tilt your head so your ear is going towards your shoulder but you must keep your shoulder down.  Continue until you feel tension at the side of your neck and hold for 30 seconds.  Return to the original position and repeat on the other side.  Next, it's time to stretch the lower back.  Sit on the edge of your chair. Raise one knee towards your chest and grab it under the knee with both hands and pull it just a bit closer while keeping a straight back.  Do not lean forward.  You should feel a bit of tension in your lower back and upper buttocks. Hold for 30 sections, slowly relax, returning to the original position before repeating it with the other leg.

Finally, it's time for a standing thigh stretch.  Stand up, grab the ankle or pant leg on one side and pull it towards your rear.  Make sure you keep your back straight and knees parallel for the best results.  You should feel tension in the front of the thigh.  Hold it for 30 seconds, release, and repeat on the other side.  

A simple stretching routine you can perform several times throughout the day at your desk.  One can get quite stiff just sitting around all day.  Let me know what you think, I'd love to hear.  More on stretching later.  Have a great day.

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