One of the most neglected, yet most important aspects of exercise, is stretching. My newer clients usually ask me, "Do I really HAVE to?" Why? It takes time and many people find it boring. They seem to have bigger and better things to do. After working with me for a few weeks, they can't wait for flexibility work at the end of a training session. It's amazing how quickly their attitudes change toward stretching. I see them stretch when they work out on their own. Why? Because the discovered their need for those stiff, tight muscles to relax.
Stretching deserves our time and attention because of it's many valuable benefits:
Everyone needs to stretch. We do it when we get up in the morning. We do it when we have been sitting for along time. Have you noticed? Whether young or old, we all need flexibility. Younger people can get away with 5 minutes of targeting stretching with a little bit of overall flexibility training, unless you are in sports. Sports puts a higher demand on the body, so coaches give their athletes what they need in their training regimen. If you are 40+, you may need more, your body produces less Elastin and collagen causing stiffness in the morning. A blend of active and static stretching is important to keep a greater range of movement while it reduces some joint pain. Everyone can do it!
Fitting flexibility exercise into your workout routine is easy and only takes 5-10 minutes. If you are stiff to start, begin moving the stiff area through it's full range of motion. It can be included in your warm-up while walking. Keep the movement smooth and deliberate. Athletes find this valuable because the muscles are stiff and tight from training so hard. Older adults benefit, especially with arthritis because the muscles pull less at painful joints. By increasing your range of motion, you are able to do more activities with less potential for injury. It only takes a little bit of your time.
Adding 5-10 minutes at the end of your routine takes a bit of planning. Make it a habit to finish your workout with stretching. This time, it should be static, holding the body in a particular position without holding your breath. If you are tight on time, shorten your cardio by 5 minutes or learn to do compound strength exercises. Hold each stretch for 15-30 on all the major muscle groups such as the hamstrings, breathing with it. Breathing helps the body to relax into the stretch. Your lower back will thank you for it! Coax your body to stretch further; don't force it! More targeted stretching for areas of the body with more demand, such as the IT band, reduces pulling pain and bursititis. Foam rolling can be a wonderful aid to the benefits of stretching.
Which stretches are "Gotta Haves"?
Whatever your age or activity level, adding flexibility work into your routine is worth every second. Don't know how to stretch? Hiring a personal trainer will pay for itself in the benefits learning to do them right. Go to great lengths! Stretching does a body good.