When my clients come in complaining of muscle tightness, more often than not my first question to them is “Do you stretch throughout the day or week?” The answer is always sheepish “I try” or “I need to.” If that is your answer too, it’s ok; you’re not alone. The massage therapist I see on a regular basis is constantly telling me I need to stretch more. I know this, yet like many people, I get busy, and I get distracted. I usually don’t think about it unless I am working out.
Doing consistent stretching throughout the week is just as vital as stretching post workout. For the purposes of this article, we will stick to just discussing stretching after working out. All the stretches included herein are always helpful to do periodically during the day or week.
Studies have shown that for a long, flexible muscle structure, static stretches before working out is ineffective. For good overall performance in anything you choose to do, it is vital to make sure that you are always at your best. Taking an integrative, whole body approach to your training makes sure that this will be at the forefront.
I Do Stretch But I Am Still Sore, What Gives?
Muscles are comprised of several fibers bonded together with a lovely little substance called Fascia. When these fibers are stressed, they break down, then knit back together. It is theorized that this is what causes delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. Stretching cannot stop this from happening. But consequently, when muscles get shortened and become tighter during this process, stretching can help to elongate and keep them supple thus helping to counteract this feeling. Muscles can become tight from more than just exercise. Inactivity, long periods of sitting, injury or even illnesses can all contribute to this. Stretching can help with all these issues as well.
Why Do I Need to be Flexible?
Please note that when I say flexible, I do not mean you need to emulate Gabby Douglas during her floor routine. As we age, we start to lose some of our balance, flexibility, and our muscles start to tighten. This tightness inhibits our joints from achieving our full range of motion. This can also be said for seemingly simplistic tasks such as walking, bending over, and lifting.
Hold each stretch for 30-45 seconds; for a deeper stretch, you can go up to 60 seconds. You should feel a slight tightness, but no pain. Listen to your body. If you feel anything beyond being just uncomfortable, stop. You are doing yourself a disservice and could induce damage by trying to force a stretch. Take it easy at first. You are in a marathon, not a sprint.
- Lateral: Take your ear to the same shoulder, and repeat on the other side.
- Forward: Take your chin to your chest, hold.
- Angle: Take chin diagonally towards armpit, hold and repeat on the other side.
- All over: Gently roll your head around in circle, making your spine the axis, rotate both directions
- Lateral: Take your arm across to the opposite side of your body and take the other arm and hook it around to help the other arm come fully across. Hold and repeat with the other arm.
- Posterior Extension: Clasp your hands behind you and bring your arms up as high as you can.
- Anterior Extension: Extend your hands in front of you and clasp arms together, gently rounding out your shoulders and mid back.
Legs & Trunk
- Quad/Anterior Hip: Bring your heel back to your hip and clasp with hands. This stretch can be done lying face down or standing up. If doing this stretch standing up, try to be as upright with your knee as close aligned with your hip as possible. You should feel this in the lower part of your abdomen down to your knee. Hold and repeat on the other leg.
- Calf: Lying face up, bring one of your legs up, so your hip forms a right angle. Using a firm Theraband or a hand towel wrapped around the ball of your foot. Pull your foot gently towards your abdomen, hold and repeat on the other leg.
- Hamstrings/Posterior Hip/Low Back: In the same position as the Calf stretch and still using the towel/Theraband, pull your whole leg back toward your head as far that is comfortable, hold and rerepeat on the other leg. Make sure your low back does not arch up. If you find this is inevitable, raise your stationary leg to a bended position to take the strain off.
There are so many variations you can do to stretch these regions, so after you have the basics, get creative!
I am not going to say that stretching will be the answer to all muscle tension, but it helps more than you know. Also, remember that your body craves balance. Whatever you stretch in the back, stretch in the front. This will help counteract overstretching as well as tightened muscles (i.e. overstretched upper back/shoulders, tight pectorals). Whether your goal is to perfect your Crow pose, run a Triathlon, compete in the Arnold Classic or just have good overall wellness, stretching is the key to helping you achieve it all.