No, I’m talking about being able to lick your elbow or turn your body into a pretzel, but I am dedicating today’s post to the importance of being flexible and incorporating stretching into your daily life!
I completed another half this past weekend and today I realized my IT band (fibrous tissue that runs from your hip down your thigh and connects to the knee) is super tight and is causing me pain. What does that tell me? I need to stretch more!!! Tightness can cause lots of problems, especially if not nipped in the bud early on! So I thought I should share with everyone the importance of stretching!
Flexibility provides you with a sound foundation with which to get lean and mean! But more importantly, being flexible helps prevent injury. But what just is flexibility? According to about.com, flexibility is defined as “the ability of your joints to move through a full range of motion. Having flexibility in your muscles allows for more movement around the joints and you can achieve this with a basic stretching workout.”
Now there are two ways to think about flexibility: static and dynamic flexibility. Static flexibility is how far a joint can hold a particular pose. For example it’s like the ability for a cheerleader to keep their leg next to their ears. Dynamic flexibility is how far a joint can flex in motion, such as a cheerleaders high kick. But both types of flexibility affect and impact the other.
If your muscles tighten up, it can cause lots of pain and result in a loss of flexibility, this is why it is so important to stretch in whatever way you like best (or multiple ways). Being inflexible can cause joint pain, muscle pain, poor posture, injuries and the list goes on and on.
So how do you properly go about creating those flexible joints? Please do read on…
There are several ways to creating flexibility. The more ways you do it, the more flexible you become!
Yoga/Pilates– is a great way to not only relax your mind and firm those muscles, but it also creates some great range of motion for your joints. It lengthens your muscles, forcing them to stretch and with time and practice you’ll become more flexible.
Static stretching – Static stretching is the typical stretching you see occurring in the gym. That guy grabbing is ankle to his butt to stretch the quad. That gal in the corner with her feet together in the butterfly pose stretching the insides of thighs. Static stretching is great AFTER your muscles are warm. Doing this type of dedicated stretching on cold muscles is simply asking for strains and tears!!! It is important to hold each pose for at least 30 seconds in order for your muscles to relax and allow themselves to being to stretch. Rapid fire static stretching will not help and could actually cause damage if done on cold muscles.
Dynamic stretching– Dynamic stretching is where you use motion to stretch your muscles out. You typically see this in a warm up: the high knees and butt kicks in the warm up of Insanity are the perfect example. It gets the heart pumping and it stretches your muscles for the grueling workout to come.
Myofascial Self Release – This is my personal favorite type of stretching. Myofascial is a type of massage that you can give yourself. It typically involves foam rollers (see picture) and/or other props that use your body weight to roll down the length of the muscle you wish to “massage”. This is great particularly for runners with tight IT bands (which can cause hip and knee problems). While it won’t cause flexibility, it will release your muscles, so it becomes easier to stretch and develop that awesome flexibility you’re craving!
Massage – Who doesn’t love a good massage right? Now a massage isn’t going to result in the ability to suddenly do the splits, but beyond being relaxing and feeling amazing, massages do help relax those muscle and unwind all those knots that have built up with lots of exercise. And relaxed muscles are easier stretched! So it can be helpful if you want to try to hit the reset button!
Now I try to dedicate at least 20 minutes of my workout 3-4 times a week to focus on just my flexibility. On the days I’m not doing a full stretching routine does not mean I am not stretching, I am, but it might be 5 minutes of my time. I try to alternate my stretch days with my strength training days, except on Sundays when I typically dedicate several hours to the gym with a long distance run (LDR), strength, and flex. Below you will see generalized examples of my “stretch days” and my “non-stretch days”
Dynamic Warm-up (5 min)
Cardio (30-60 min)
Strength Training (30 minutes)
Simple static stretches (5 minutes)
Dynamic Warm-up (5 minutes)
Cardio (30-60 minutes)
Myofascial Self Release (10 minutes)
Dynamic Stretching (10 minutes)
Static Stretches (10 minutes)
As you can see, I spend about the same time in the gym most days, I just do different things. But it feels so great to stretch out,and it’s a wonderful way to reward yourself after a punishing workout. But I make a point to stretch throughout the day.
I try to do a few light & easy stretching activities when I wake up in the morning. I know I said not to stretch cold, but I do a few sun salutations and point/flex my feet. It’s a good way to get the blood flowing and start your day off right!
I also do a few relaxing yoga poses at night if I’m not too tired! Child’s pose is one of my favorites, as well as the nighttime goddess twist & upside down relaxation. The purpose is to elongate the body and help wind down the brain to prepare you for sleep! I also so some stretches at work, particularly after long periods of sitting!
So remember, the key here is to remember to stretch at least 3 times a week. Hold poses for at least 30 seconds to be effective, but 1 minute is ideal! It’s also important that you don’t feel pain. You WILL feel tightness, but that should ease up as you get more flexible. But you should never be pulling to wear you feel something might or will tear. Start slowly and try to go a little further each day! Always lead with your chest and NOT your head, which can hurt your spine. Before you know it you just might be able to lick your elbow! Now imagine if you were as flexible as a cheerleader who could do this:
Keep sweating! (and stretching). Be sure to email me if you want me to help you with some stetching routines for a specific area you’d like to work on @ firstname.lastname@example.org