Quick Fit Tips: The Right Way to S-T-R-E-T-C-H
By Martin Brown
Here’s why you should stretch, and how to do it right:
1. You must stretch before exercising. No if’s and’s or but’s about it!
There is no more important part of a daily fitness routine than stretching. Yoga, Tai Chi, and other ancient forms of body movement, incorporate much of what we Westerners simply call “stretching.” Never underestimate its value to your well being. If you do no other form of movement during the day, stretch every major muscle set of your body.
2. Beware of cold starts.
What this means is that once we are into our mid-20s and beyond, our muscles tend to shorten, tighten, and grow increasingly less flexible. Jumping into any stretching routine without some easy warm-ups is an invitation to injury. Here’s a couple of simple remedies for that: Walk briskly for five to ten minutes either in place or around the block. Lay down on the floor and roll your legs side to side and up to your chest and back to the floor. The purpose for both of these movements is to do a quick body warm up. Cold starts lead to muscle strain. So remember to warm up first.
3. So many stretches, so little time. But do them anyway.
Here’s my example. I do a 90-minute gym routine everyday, of which over 30 minutes is stretching. Aerobics, weight work, and the rest fits into smaller chunks of time because I know, as you will learn, that stretching, creating and keeping a flexible body is the key to good health. That said, take the time to borrow a yoga, and a Tai Chi video or book from your local library. It will help you to incorporate many movements into your workout routine that never occurred to you. Having done that, look at a basic book on stretching. You’ll see some great illustrations for easy and fun ways to move your body. And believe me when I say, your body will thank you for it.
4. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again.
It’s not a matter of touching your toes the first time you try. It’s a matter of making the attempt. NEVER push your body beyond its stopping point. You’re trying to increase flexibility, not create injuries. Remember that the stretch that seems impossible one week is suddenly possible the next. Your muscles will start responding in days and weeks, just be patient and you’ll see results in what is really a very brief period of time.
5. Breath, breath, breath.
Stretching and breathing go together like laughter and happiness. When starting a stretching routine, treat yourself to stepping outside, even on a chilly day, and take some deep breaths. Hold that breath and let your body feel the benefit of that breath. No form of breathing is more refreshing than that advocated in the practice of yoga. So when you look into that ancient art, pay particular attention to breathing, it will help you in every aspect of stretching and your overall fitness program.