Monday, August 6

stretch for a healthier body and longer, leaner muscles!

do you stretch? no, do you really stretch? like take the time, breathe through it, and feel it in your body kind of stretch?

i do. i didn't always. but, i do now. and, you should too!

i hear stretching offers a bounty of benefits such as a healthier body and longer, leaner muscles. i'm totally into that kind of stuff!

what's stretching?

stretching is movement that helps to keep the muscles supple and improve the joints' range of motion. exercises like yoga and pilates, where stretching is the exercise, are designed to stretch and elongate and improve flexibility.

what are the benefits of stretching?

improves your workout – supple and lengthened muscles give a greater range of motion and efficiency. 

anti-aging – haven't you heard, we are as old as our joints. flexibility gives more mobility and helps to avoid joint pain often associated with aging. it also maintains range of motion, spine health, and stability.

long, lean muscles – stretching, especially yoga and pilates, can build muscle while elongating it. you know how ballerinas have very lean and tone bodies!

improves flexibility - flexibility allows muscle to be turned, bowed, or twisted without tearing. as your flexibility improves, you'll be able to stretch further.

injury prevention and healing – stretching and maintaining flexibility helps to prevent muscle injuries by keeping muscle elasticity. it also helps to prevent and heal soreness from working out.  

relaxation - the controlled breathing helps to calm and relax the mind and to release tension.

improved health -  stretching may improve your circulation, increasing blood flow to your muscles. and having good circulation can help protect you against illnesses such as diabetes to kidney disease.

according to the american journal of physiology, greater flexibility has been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. in this 2009 study, people age 40 and older who performed well on a sit-and-reach test had less stiffness in their arterial walls (an indicator of the risk for stroke and heart attack).

when to stretch?

you probably think about stretching and end up blowing it off with a couple toe touches. am i right? you probably wonder when you should stretch. before a workout? after?

when you workout, you're probably ready to get right to it, so you can be done with it. and, you're probably short on time. but, skipping a stretching routine will hurt you in the long run. so, stretch before and after a workout. remember to never stretch a cold muscle. start your workout by warming up with a few minutes of jogging, jump rope, or jumping jacks. 
how to stretch?

start a workout with dynamic stretching (gentle movement like arm circles). this will warm up your muscles and your joints. end a workout with a static stretching (held position like toe touches). static stretching is what develops flexibility. this where the breathing comes in.

inhale when preparing for the stretch. exhale as you move into the stretch. then, hold the stretch for a count of 5 exhales. holding the stretch while breathing during your stretching will help you relax and reach further. finally, inhale when returning to the start position.

the key to stretching is to know your comfort level. never push a stretch to the point of pain. that would not be stretch...that would be pulling a muscle. so, feel for a stretch, but stop when it starts to hurt.

some stretches you can try

3 dynamic stretches before a workout

arm circles - in a standing position, with feet shoulder with apart, extend your arms straight-out to the side at shoulder height with shoulder relaxed. do 20 small forward circles. then, switch directions and do  20 small backward circles. then, follow with 20 big circles (forward and back)

body swings - in squat postion with feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, and hands together, swing arms between your legs. and, with a swift, fluid motion, reach arms out and up. when arms reach toward the sky, move into a standing position and extend you hips slightly forward. repeat for 10 complete swings.

arms swings - in a standing position with feet shoulder width apart, slowly swing arms in the same direction at shoulder height. when arms reach full swing limit, slightly twist at the waist for a 10 count. then, with arms at shoulder height, swings arms in opposite directions.

3 static stretches after a workout

straddle stretch – in a seated position, open your legs as wide as is comfortable, keeping them straight. bend forward keeping your back straight and hold. sit up slowly and turn and lean towards your right leg and then your left for the same time. goal: reach your nose to your knee

standing toe touches  - in a standing position, with your feet shoulder with apart, reach your hands between your feet and try to touch the floor. goal: reach palms to the floor

glute cross-over stretch – still seated, extend both legs straight in front of you. bend one leg at the knee and cross it over the other placing your foot flat on the floor. use both arms to hug your knee towards your chest. you should feel a stretch in your bottom and hip of that leg. switch legs.

make time for stretching and improve your flexibility

1) commit to your flexibility routine

if you workout, stretch before and after. if you don't workout, make stretching your workout 

2) breathe deeply, fully, and slowly

deep breathing relaxes you and your muscles. being tense and holding your breathe is not a good combo for stretching.

3) take your time

rushing through stretches will defeat your effort. from start to finish, move through each stretch. taking time to feel and reach will help to develop your flexibility as you continue your daily routine.

4) know your limits

"no pain, no gain" does not apply to stretching. feeling pain while stretching is warning. if you feel pain, you've found your limit. with daily stretching you'll be able to stretch past that and find a new limit by increasing flexibility. keep in mind, feeling a little discomfort is normal.

5) repeat your stretches

repeating each stretch 2 or 3 times will help your muscles become more supple and elastic. repeating your stretching routine daily will ensure increased flexibility. before you know it, you'll be able to reach further and deeper into your stretches. your muscles will be longer, leaner, and stronger.

what did you learn?

if your rushing to get out of your workout clothes, you're cutting yourself short. if you don't stretch after a workout, you're more likely to feel muscle soreness and joint pain. and, at an older age, you will lose your range of motion, shrink your spine, and stability.

start off with dynamic movements and end with static holds. its important to prepare your muscles for exercise and work on your flexibility, so you aid with the healing and injury prevention.

for more stretching tips and benefits, here are some links:

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