You know how wonderful it feels to savor a long, luxurious stretch upon waking? It can be both relaxing and invigorating and should not be limited to mornings or naptime.
Stretching is instinctual. It is a natural and worthwhile exercise that is an important component of maintaining physical fitness that ought to be practiced daily.
Benefits of Stretching
As we get older our muscles tighten and shorten and the range of motion of our joints can decrease. Stretching can help keep our muscles long and supple and our joints flexible.
Flexibility keeps us agile by aiding in maintaining balance and coordination, sustaining proper posture and reducing our risk of falling.
Maintaining flexibility can help avoid injury and pain. A common cause of debilitating back pain is stiff, tight muscles in the lower back, hamstrings, hips and buttocks. Stretching these muscles regularly will alleviate discomfort and maintain mobility.
Practicing this simple, yet effective technique is a great way to unwind. Chronically tense, tight muscles frequently accompany stress and can be alleviated through gentle stretching.
Increased endorphin levels reached through gentle stretching can also improve your mood and enhance feelings of general wellbeing.
Stretching also contributes to the overall success of any workout. Muscles lengthen and energy efficiency and muscular elasticity is enhanced. This results in increased endurance and metabolism.
Stretching encourages blood flow to the muscles and this carries more nourishment to the tissues while removing waste byproducts. Increased blood flow aids healing from muscle and joint injuries and reduces muscle soreness post workout.
It is important to warm up with light but progressive cardio such as walking, jogging or running for five to ten minutes followed by gentle stretching.
Stretch slowly, keeping the movement gentle and advancing to the point of mild tension, but never to the point of pain. Breathe freely while you maintain the pose.
Dynamic stretching is best suited for warm up activity. This controlled, smooth and deliberate stretch is performed by moving through the range of motion, repeatedly – usually ten to fifteen repetitions.
Arm circles, leg swings, body weight squats and lunges are repeated, gradually increasing speed and/or reach in a steady, rhythmic fashion.
The movements elevate the heart rate, warm muscles and mobilize the joints, and while this stretch prepares the muscles for exercise and sports, it does little to increase flexibility.
This is not to be confused with ballistic stretching, which is erratic, uncontrolled and somewhat jerky bouncing that should be avoided.
This bouncing movement can cause tiny tears in muscles that leave scar tissue as the muscle heals and tightens even further, making you less flexible and more prone to pain.
Static stretching is best suited for cool down. This involves stretching a muscle to the point of mild tension but not actual pain. This position is then held for about thirty seconds without bouncing.
The stretch is felt through the entire length and center of the muscle. Static stretching is considered very safe and effective for improving flexibility. The movements are gentle and relaxing and reduce heart rate and body temperature.
This stretch is suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. The longer you hold a static stretch, the greater your flexibility will be.
Whether you exercise regularly or not, it is important to make stretching a daily practice. Stretching does not have to involve a huge time commitment. Devoting a few minutes every day to stretching can go a long way toward improving muscle tone and elasticity.
Debbie Friend, MSc is the Founder and CEO of LifeCurrents and a Certified Laughter Yoga Leader in Chicago, IL. Follow Debbie on Twitter