The Stretches You Need Most
A while back someone made the comment to me, “You stretch more than any guy I’ve ever seen.” I thought this was very arbitrary because I work in a gym and in my downtime I stretch. So I shrugged and went back to stretching. Then the question was asked, “Why do you stretch so much?” This threw me off a little bit. I had to pause and think. A whirlwind of follow up questions and answers flew through my head, each more useless than the next. Why should I stretch? Why would I stretch? I’m not a gymnast, what would I gain by doing the splits? It looks ridiculous. It is uncomfortable. It makes me sweat. It makes my muscles feel like jelly. Most of all, it hurts. In the end, my answer was simple, “because I am tight.”
The human body is designed to be in motion. It is a machine, and its design is perfect. It is an intricate system of levers and muscles that must be maintained and taken care of. It must be fed the right fuel, its joints must be lubricated, and most importantly it must be ready and able to perform whatever duties are asked of it on a daily basis. If not, the body may become like the last washing machine you owned – you know the one I’m talking about. The leg broke, it started wobbling, and when you skipped a cycle one week and decided to save time by washing the lights and the darks together, it keeled over and died. Sad story, but it happens. And unlike the replaceable washing machine, you only get one body.
But enough about domestic appliances.
The fact is that your muscles, my muscles, and everyone else’s muscles are all very tight. The more you work out, the tighter you get, and it causes problems. Most often these problems show up in the form of pain and most of the time we block this pain out and keep moving on. As time goes on, the magnificent and perfectly designed machine that is your body will compensate for that pain. All of a sudden, it’s, “BAM! Stress fracture.” Or maybe it’s, “BAM! Now I can’t run because I have I.T. Band Syndrome.” The road to recovery from these injuries is long, and for me – all too familiar and unpleasant.
The remedy? Address your tightness, accept your limitations, and stretch your muscles.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone here at the studio about stretching. The comment that was made was something to the effect of “I didn’t know how tight I was until I took a couple of yoga classes.” I realized that although that is a general statement, it applies to you, me, and everyone else. So, I have compiled a short list of stretches that you need. They address the most common aches and pains and are very simple to do. And here they are:
Hip Flexor Stretch:
Among other reasons, you have tight hip flexors because:
a) You sit a lot. Or for long periods at a time.
b) You are a runner, and spend minimal time stretching this area. Runners are notoriously weak in the hip and core muscles.
c) You have tight hip flexors. (As your mother might have told you when you asked a question that she couldn’t answer, “Some things just are the way they are, honey!”) Stretch and feel better.
Begin in this position. Lean forward with your hips while keeping your torso completely upright. The stretch should be felt in the front of the hip of the leg that is down. For a much better and more beneficial stretch, maintain this position and raise both hands above your head and look at the ceiling. Hold 30 seconds minimum.
Hamstring and lower back stretch:
Ever had Lower back pain? Chances are it hurts because it is really tight. You should stretch it.
Stand with feet together and then touch your toes. If you can’t touch your toes, then grab your ankles, calves, or whatever else you can and hang on. Hold for 30 – 60 seconds and repeat until it loosens up. For a much better stretch, stand with your toes on the stairs and your heels hanging off. Again, bend down and hold.
Pectoral Stretch (Doorway Stretch):
Your chest muscles are tight because:
a) Gravity is pushing down on your shoulders. Forcing them forward.
b) You have a natural tendency to “round” your shoulders forward which just basically means that you have a natural poor posture. (Myself included!).
Find a doorway and place your hands on either side of it with your elbows at shoulder level. Step through with your lower body until you feel the stretch in your pectoral (chest) muscles. Hold for 30-60 seconds.
Supine Glute Stretch:
Begin by lying flat on your back with one leg crossed over the other. Reach your hands behind the thigh of the leg that is not bent like a pretzel, and pull it toward you. This stretch should be felt in the glute (butt) of the pretzel leg. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds. Repeat. Switch to the other leg and repeat.
If you do these stretches, you will not automatically become an ultra-flexible gymnast. But, you will be better off. And your body will thank you. Pleases always remember to keep in mind that changes do not occur immediately! If your muscles have been tight for a long time, then it may take a long time to loosen up. Take some time today to do them and reap the looser rewards!
*The best times to stretch are when you get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. Also before and after a workout, but that goes without saying (hopefully).
**Footnote: The foam roller is amazing and should be a part of every person’s stretching, pre, and post workout routine.