Stretching? No, I Don’t Have Time

Muscle Stretching Improves Flexibility and Health

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stretching improves body performance

“ We never really have time for anything. If we want time, we must make it”

 

All your life your skeletal muscles create the movements that carry your body. They do what you ask without even questioning why. Now, you do have other muscles that are quietly working behind the scenes. These involuntary muscles (as they are called), help you to breathe, digest your food, and so on, but since we are talking about stretching, the ones we want to discuss are the voluntary ones that move your arms and legs and body around.

Our body’s just like our cars, homes, and yards need proper maintenance in order to give us joy in return. Too often in our busy day to day existence it is easy for us to take for granted what our body’s need, in order to be healthy. Many people who strive to take care of themselves well, come to see me often. They eat right , they exercise a bit, but then they get an injury, or have some bound up tension in their body, never making the connection that they need to stretch out and become relaxed as part of the balance of good health.

Consider the animals and how instinctively they do what they do. Picture a cat for example, he gets up from his nap and goes through his motions of lengthening his entire body, from his wide yawn, to his big stretch, making every part limber and ready for what ever is to come in his day. If we but follow that example, we would be happier because of it. We maybe wouldn’t be as blissful as a cat, but at least more flexible and ready for action.

Consider this, your muscles actually have one ability. They contract or shorten. This in turn pulls together their two ends, and moves a joint. From your knee, to your neck, your leg, or your back, your entire body is this mass of shortening muscles moving your body around.

Now there are moments when muscles become weak and lose their strength. They become too lengthened which can cause further imbalances, but I will save that for another article.

For now, we will focus on the necessity and simplicity of getting and keeping your body flexible, by the conscious effort of helping your muscles regain their normal resting length.

 

Muscle Stretching Brings Freedom

Our bodys by nature are designed to move. A healthy body should have freedom of movement, without pain and restriction.

So what then is the answer to regain that movement? What can you do to have the ability to bend over and touch the floor, or to stoop to pick up the kitty, or your child? Even to look over your shoulder and check for traffic?

You guessed it, the simple answer is stretching. Without it you’re a mess. You get out of bed stiff, you go through your day feeling like you couldn’t tie your shoes or bend over to touch the ground, even if you wanted to.  When you get down you can’t get back up. When you stay too long in one position, you feel like it takes you forever to get moving again. Sitting at your computer all day you begin to have muscle strain so intense that you get eye strain and headaches, back pain, and a cascade of other problems.

You try muscle relaxers and aspirin only to find that the tension is still there hiding deep in your body, waiting for that moment to debilitate you; the moment when you need your flexibility the most.

No matter what your current level of flexibility your body is amazing in its resiliency and ability to overcome. You can regain whatever freedom of movement that you have lost by starting now, the habit of daily stretching.  All of us have a miraculous ability to regain health, whether its from poor physical condition, bad diet, or even something serious like surgery or injury.

So allow me just a few minutes to share some simple and easy things that I have learned to help you feel better, have more freedom of movement, and relieve some of that tension that you have been needlessly carrying around each day.

 

Muscle Stretching Tips

Some may ask, I know I want to stretch but how?

What muscles do I need to work on, and what is the right way to do it?

Great questions. Here are some answers for you.

First I can share some pointers and suggestions here, but its really good to have a resource that you can use. A book that I have found to be an awesome guide to learning is titled “Stretching” by Bob Anderson. My personal copy is dog eared and well worn and I use it frequently because it is so simple to understand, and filled with photos that make it easy to use.

Following this article you can find some samples you can use right away, but really you should get your hands on it and see for yourself how easy it can be to get back in the shape you want to be in. So, find it here or at your local bookstore. You will thank me, I am sure.

So, for now lets tackle some of the basics you should know:

When to stretch:

  • In the morning when you rise
  • Whenever you feel stiff or tense
  • Before and after exercise or strenuous activity
  • Before bedtime

Why you stretch as a habit:

  • Help muscles to regain flexibility and natural resting length
  • Warm up muscles to avoid injury before activities
  • Cool down muscles to lessen post exercise soreness
  • Help you relax
  • Raise your body awareness
  • Give your mind time to rest and be quiet as you stretch

Who should stretch:

  • Anyone that has muscles in their body

When you should NOT stretch:

  • During the acute phase immediately after an injury
  • After any surgical procedure before its wise to do so
  • If there is significant pain in an area. (Note: The rule of thumb should always be to listen to your body’s intuitive guidance.)

Simple steps to follow:

  • Begin with an easy stretch– You should feel some light tension in the muscle, but it should be comfortable.
  • No bouncing– Bouncing is counterproductive and can actually cause injury because it sends automatic messages to the body to protectively shorten the muscle, while your objective is to lengthen it. So, NO bouncing.
  • Slowly increase the stretch– As your target muscle area adapts to its new resting length you can gently increase the depth of the stretch. Do so always within your comfort range. It doesn’t have to be painful to be effective.
  • BREATHE– The act of slow, rhythmic breathing is a relaxer to the entire body. As you stretch practice slow deep breaths and focus your attention on the area you are targeting. Feel the tension leaving the muscle and flexibility increasing.

Holding your breath holds tension in. Breathing releases it. So, BREATHE.

  • Count quietly in your head– Set a goal in order to make progress. You can stretch for any amount of time you wish. As you make stretching a daily habit learn to ease into a stretch and hold it for a little longer each time. Before you know it your stretching will have gone from just few seconds to 10-15 seconds, then to 30 seconds – 2 minutes. Your body is amazing in its ability to quickly adapt and improve. You will be proud of your fast progress if you engage in stretching for even a few minutes every day.

So there you have a brief beginning into the importance of stretching, some basic knowledge of why and when, and some guidelines to follow. Certainly it is not everything you should know, but it’s a wonderful start to get you going, and get you excited at the possibilities of what you can do for yourself.

And remember,

” Its not where you are now but the direction your headed, that matters”.

I believe in you. You can do this. You will be so happy you did.

(  For your safety): If necessary, please consult your doctor or health care professional before beginning any exercise or stretching regimen.

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