Touch Your Toes

Ruth the Acrobat

Whoa Ruth, slow it down.

Perhaps Ruth took it too far, but flexibility training represents something else to avoid at the gym an important and often neglected aspect of fitness. Many people step off the elliptical or lay down their weights and consider their workout over, missing the awesome benefits of stretching:

  • Lowered risk of injury – Through daily activity, muscles become tighter, shortening joint range of motion and leading to greater risk of pulls or tears.
  • Decreased stress – Stretching encourages muscle relaxation, deep breathing and other Zen stuff, further supporting the stress-reducing effects of exercise.
  • Improved posture – Postural muscles, especially those of the lower back, become tight and inflexible, pulling the body out of alignment and causing pain.
  • Reduced muscles soreness – Stretching after a workout reduces possible future soreness and stretching already sore muscles hurts like hell alleviates discomfort.
  • Increased ability to complete everyday activities – With greater range of motion and more aligned posture, completing everyday activities supposedly becomes easier and less painful.

Stretching increases the resting length of muscles around a joint. Of course, the more often stretches are completed, the more flexible a person becomes. Less stretching = less flexibility. Muscle length can increase when stretching 2 or 3 times per week, while stretching 5 to 7 days each week is overachieving optimal.

Stretches should be held to the point of discomfort, but not pain. Sharp or intense pain indicates horrible flexibility stretching beyond the capacity of the muscle and higher injury risk. Hold each stretch until you want to cry for at least 20 seconds.

Possible times for stretching:

  • In the morning – Perform a short warm-up before stretching. Muscles tighten at night and possibility of injury is greater immediately after waking.
  • After exercise – Muscles warmed from a full training session stretch deeper than those heated from a simple warm-up. Also, stretching muscles worked during exercise decreases excruciating pain soreness the following day.
  • After a warm shower or bath – Stretching muscles still pliable from hot water feels relaxing and peaceful.
  • Before bed – As part of an evening routine, stretching unwinds the body and places the mind in a calm state, allowing sleep to arrive faster.

Do you stretch? What are your favorite stretches or favorite times to stretch? Do you have any chronically tight muscles?

Source: Yoke, Mary M. Personal Fitness Training: Theory and Practice. Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.

Image credit: Library of Congress


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