When you see a man or a woman who is so superbly conditioned that they could be a model for the fit human body, they may seem to be solid, hard, like a rock. And, indeed, some are. There are passionate bodybuilders who are literally unable to raise their arms above their head – but, this is unwise conditioning. True physical fitness involves not only strength but flexibility. Muscles should be relaxed and smooth, as well as strong and if our muscles are loose, joint paint is much less likely. To achieve this, stretching must be a critical part of every fitness regime.
Men, especially, are sometimes reluctant to concern themselves with stretching because it reminds them too much of their sister's yoga class. But there are two extremely important reasons to stretch every time you exercise:
* When muscles are loose and relaxed they are much less likely to be injured.
* Your strength and capability will be greatly enhanced if your muscles have been stretched.
So here are a few tips about stretching that will help you to reach your goals safely, efficiently – and much sooner.
Stretching Exercises Are For Your Entire Body
If possible, each stretching session should include all the muscle groups in your body. It is very common to stretch our legs and arms, and often our shoulders – and forget about everything else. For example, if you are about to embark on a physical activity that involves running, don't neglect your ankles. Even your toes will benefit from being stretched.
Stretch Both Before And After An Exercise Session
Many athletes stretch before they exercise because they know loose muscles are much less likely to be injured than tight, tense ones. But it's equally important to exercise after a workout because your muscles will be warm and therefore you will become more flexible and enhance whatever you accomplished during your exercise session. Your body will 'remember' this conditioning.
There Is No Stretching Super Bowl
Stretching is not a competitive sport. Just because the person next to you in class can easily stretch down and place their hands on the floor, whereas you can't even reach your knees, doesn't mean that they are "better" than you. Don't try and do something that your body is not ready to do because that is an almost-certain path to injury.
"But I Was So Much Looser Yesterday!"
Your ability to stretch will change from day to day. Yesterday you stretched in ways that you didn't even believe were possible … today you're a block of concrete. Don't be upset. Simply accept that your body behaves differently on different days. Stretching is superb for relaxation and disappointed expectations will counteract that tranquility and peace.
Stretch In Increments
Work your muscles in ever-lengthening increments. That is, if you're going to do three stretches to the right, hold the first stretch for 20 seconds, straighten up, hold the second stretch for 30 seconds, straighten and then do the final stretch by holding for 45 seconds. The timing is only an example, but your stretching will be much more effective if you work in this way rather than hold each stretch for an equal time with equal effort.
Impatience Is The Enemy Of A Long, Loose Body
Resting is just as important as stretching or exercising. We humans are an impatient bunch and we may resist taking time to rest because we want to "get on with it". But if you are going to develop your flexibility and improve your performance you absolutely must rest. It is not a waste of time – it is a critical part of any exercise and stretching program.
Alternate The Muscles You Stretch
For maximum results, don't stretch the same group of muscles every day. You will get better results if, for instance, you exercise your upper body one day and your lower body the next. Just like with exercise, your body needs time to recover.
Pay Attention When You Stretch
Pay attention to what's going on in your body while you stretch. All superb athletes will testify to the truth that paying attention to your body and muscles will help to prevent injury and to expand your abilities. If you are thinking about what you have to get done that afternoon or are wondering the time of the movie this weekend, you are much more likely to injure yourself by going too far. Or, you won't stretch far enough to make your efforts worthwhile. You should stretch to the point of feeling tension – but never pain.
You Can Stretch Further Than You Ever Believed Possible
Be aware that (up to a point) you can stretch much further than you might believe possible. When first stretching, go as far as you can without pain. Then simply relax, breathe into that stretch, and you will find you can go a bit further. Continue to stretch out, little bit by little bit, until you reach that boundary of pain. At that point, stop! Pain negates any value in stretching. This is not the activity for "no pain, no gain".
'Every Once In A While' Definitely Isn't Enough
Don't make stretching a "once in a while" activity. Stretching can and should be done frequently. The more relaxed and 'longer' we are, the healthier we will be and the better we will feel.
We've mentioned that loose, flexible muscles are less likely to be injured and can perform better than stiff rigid ones. But stretching also provides welcome energy and relieves fatigue. And although it's not generally known, the looser we are, the harder it is to be depressed or upset. These are a lot of benefits for a simple and pleasurable activity.