Our Bodies Need to Stretch!
As I groaned my way out of bed this morning, I realized something…my 40-year-old body is not as limber as my 25-year-old body was! Not really news, but definitely hits home when you feel the need to stretch just to get dressed in the morning.
I’ve had the opportunity to train so many different types of people throughout my 20+ years in fitness: from children to adults, athletes to weekend warriors and everything in between. Every person I worked with was told that stretching was as important as resistance training and cardiovascular exercise. Ideally, I wanted them to stretch at the end of every workout, but I would have been happy with just two to three times per week. However, many would leave right from our workouts and head home.
Few took the time to stretch on their own. I’ll bet some of them are feeling it now just like I do.
As you age, your muscles lose mass, shrink and lose water, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. These changes will affect how you move, your reaction time and even your quality of life. Bones change as well, with decreases in mineralization that can lead to osteoporosis if severe enough. Both of these changes then affect your range of motion and your ability to complete normal activities of daily living, as well as the activities that you enjoy.
That’s the bad news. Now the good news. You can make changes that will keep you moving, and with less discomfort, as you age. These tips are for everyone. So, whether you are 25 or 65, stretch! Here’s what the American College of Sports Medicine recommends:
Stretching exercises should be performed at least two to three times each week.
Stretch slowly to the point that you feel slight discomfort, but not pain. You may even feel a tingling sensation.
Hold the stretch for 10-30 for adults, and 30-60 seconds for older adults.
Repeat stretches two to four times so that you are stretching each muscle for about 60 seconds total.
These guidelines are very general, but give you a great starting point. Now here’s some tips that I would recommend from my experience training.
Stretch when your muscles are warm. That’s why I usually advise it at the end of a workout. If you’re just stretching, walk for a few minutes first and proceed slowly, easing into each stretch.
Keep breathing! If you’re holding your breath, you are tensing your body. As you exhale you will feel your body relax and you can stretch a little further.
Really try to hold for at least 30 seconds per stretch. That’s when you can really feel your muscle and relax.
Perform a stretch for each major muscle group in your body: chest, back, shoulders, biceps, triceps, abs, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves. For good measure, stretch your neck too.
If you sit a lot for work, or have had joint or muscle injuries, try to stretch every day.
Try a yoga class. There are so many out there, even those that use a chair if your mobility is limited. You can improve your strength using body weight while also improving your range of motion.
If you want to try stretching at home, here are some stretches with pictures from Sports Science.co. There are a lot of them, so if you feel overwhelmed just pick five or six to start.
I really believe that flexibility training is essential, and shouldn’t be neglected.
About 14 years ago, when I was still in my twenties, I was in a bad car accident that totaled my SUV. Looking at me, you wouldn’t think anything was wrong. But if you saw my X-rays you’d know that my neck was completely messed up. Instead of a nice curve of the different vertebrae, or spinal bones, mine looked like a bunch of messed up Jenga pieces stacked in different directions. I can’t tell you how many hours I spent with doctors, physical therapists and massage therapists trying to get relief. While I did end up having surgery, there was one consistent thing throughout my visits…stretching! To this day I need to stretch and work on my range of motion each day for at least 10-15 minutes to avoid debilitating headaches and muscle spasms.
I encourage you to try adding stretching into your weekly routine. I’m betting that in a few weeks you are going to move better during workouts and life. And, it can be a great way to relax and unwind.
Let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear from you.