On Saturday 17 June, it was International Yoga Day, and it got me thinking about stretching and flexibility and the fact that while so many people have embraced the amazing benefits of yoga, many still do not see the importance of stretching. After all, stretching is a huge part of the practice of yoga.
I personally CANNOT call my workout complete unless I have had a good stretch, else I will feel it stiff the next day. I see so many people leave the gym without having stretched or leave a group class just before we start the stretch section of the class.
It’s often overlooked because the results are not as visible as lifting weights and squatting. Stretching can lead to better posture, fewer aches and pains, greater confidence, and a happier mood. That’s because stretching increases your blood flow and circulation for a healthier body and sends oxygen to your brain for a clearer mind and sunnier moods. We all need to stretch in order to protect our mobility and independence.
Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong and healthy and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage. Regular stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this means that exertion won’t put too much force on the muscle itself. Healthy muscles also help a person with balance problems to avoid falls.
With a body full of muscles, the idea of daily stretching may seem overwhelming, but according to David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital says you don’t have to stretch every muscle you have. “The areas critical for mobility are in your lower extremities: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors in the pelvis and quadriceps in the front of the thigh.” Stretching your shoulders, neck, and lower back is also beneficial. Aim for a program of daily stretches or at least three or four times per week.
It was believed that stretching was necessary to warm up the muscles and prepare them for activity. However, mounting research has shown that stretching the muscles before they’re warmed up can actually hurt them. When everything is cold, the fibres aren’t prepared and may be damaged. If you exercise first, you’ll get blood flow to the area and that makes the tissue more pliable and amenable to change. All it takes to warm up the muscles before stretching is five to 10 minutes of light activity, such as a quick walk. You can also stretch after an aerobic or weight-training workout.
Hold a stretch for 30 seconds. Don’t bounce, which can cause injury. You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle, and talk to your doctor.
* Try out Nike Training Club’s Flexibility and Mobility classes in order to learn more about stretching correctly.
Go to www.nike.com/joburg to book a class.
Happy Healthy Fabulous
Photography: Hemisha Bhana