THE JOY OF STRETCHING
We all know the feeling of being stiff and sore the day after some vigorous activity. But inactivity can make us feel stiff too. If we don’t move enough, we lose flexibility. It’s true – sitting in front of a computer at work or on the couch watching TV at home can cause as much muscle and joint stiffness as being active.
That’s why many of us who work a desk job experience aches and pains of the nagging variety – from neck and back pain to a general uncomfortable feeling of “tightness.”
The benefits of flexibility are many and varied. We’re also able to do simple tasks without grumbling and groaning – everything from tying our shoelaces to turning around in our cars to look backwards as we parallel park. .
Being flexible can also help us avoid a host of orthopedic conditions associated with muscle tightness. The most common one of these is low back pain, the main cause of lost work days in the U.S. An estimated 65 million Americans suffer from low back pain.
Some other orthopedic conditions that can be avoided by being flexible:
• Achilles tendinitis/Heel spurs – Caused by tight calf muscles and Achilles tendon
• Kneecap pain syndrome – Caused in part by tight quadriceps (front of thigh muscles)
• Iliotibial band syndrome – Caused by tight quadriceps (front of thigh muscles) and iliotibial band
There are three main ways to develop muscle and joint flexibility. The first is to be active throughout the day, which means your muscles are being used and your joints are going through different ranges of motion. This is why people who work desk jobs are advised to get up and walk around throughout their workday.
The second is to participate in organized programs that promote flexibility, such as yoga and Pilates.
The third method of developing flexibility is to stretch regularly.
There are three main methods of stretching – ballistic, static, and PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation).
Ballistic is the kind of “bouncing” stretches that are generally not recommended because they can cause you to strain a muscle by overstretching it. Static stretching is the one most of us are familiar with – holding a stretch for 20–60 seconds, letting the stretch get gradually and gently longer as you stretch.
PNF is sometimes called “assisted” stretching because you generally need someone else to help you do it. To do a PNF hamstring stretch, for example, you would lie on your back and someone would hold your ankle with your leg in the air. You would contract your hamstring muscle for several seconds, and then relax it while your partner pushed on your leg to help you achieve the hamstring stretch. A lot of experts believe PNF stretching is the most effective way to achieve better muscle flexibility.
If you need help developing a flexibility program, a personal trainer, massage therapist, or physical therapist can help you identify areas you need to work on and the best stretches to achieve your goals.
With many of my clients, I often incorporate PNF stretches to enhance the effects of their massage to decrease aches and pains and also improve post workout recovery.
Don’t Just Stretch – Strengthen As Well!
Any flexibility routine should be done in conjunction with a program to build strength in your muscles as well. Contrary to what we used to believe, we now know that strength training with weights actually improves flexibility so long as you observe proper technique and lift and lower the weight through your entire range of motion. A strength training program is a perfect accompaniment to your flexibility regimen.
When we think about “fitness” we tend to think of heart–lung endurance and strength. For all the reasons described above, it’s time we start to understand that flexibility is also animportant part of “complete fitness.”