Stretching for Flexibility – How, When and Why to Stretch
Most people don’t even know what stretching is. So, we’re going to go over what stretching is, its benefits, how to do it and when to do it.
How stretching makes you feel better?
Are you stretching a muscle or a joint?
When you think of stretching you think that you stretch your muscles. Don’t think of stretching muscles. Instead think of stretching your joints. A joint is actually made up of two bones and those bones move, that’s why it’s called a joint. Now muscles help move those bones. A muscle goes from one side of the bone to the other.
Most people think they want to stretch that muscle but in reality what we want to do is to prevent that arthritic condition and keep the cartilage and the ligaments nice and healthy. We need to keep that joint itself moving. Muscles are kind of elastic and it’s like pulling a rubber band. However, ligaments take a lot of work to keep them mobile.
Simple rules to stretch
If you know these simple rules, you can apply it to any movable joint in your body. You don’t need tons of charts and the yoga classes or anything else.
Relax the muscles
Firstly you need to relax the muscles in the area that you’re stretching. You don’t want the muscles tight because you want those muscles nice and loose. You’re not trying to stretch the muscle; you’re trying to stretch the joint underneath the muscle. If the muscle that connects the two bones of the joint tightens up, the joint will just shut and even though you’re pulling on it, you can’t open it up to get the movement on the joint. You’re just doing a tug-of-war on the muscle.
‘No pain no gain’ rule does not hold when it comes to stretching. What do you think happens when you stretch so hard that it hurts? The muscles around the area are tightening up to try the guard the joint and you’re breaking rule number one. Now you should feel stretching but it shouldn’t hurt and for some people, that’s hard to explain. You don’t want to be tearing yourself up but you definitely want to feel a good stretch in there.
You have to move slowly into the stretch and you need to move slowly out of the stretch. Your body has a reflex and when the joint moves quickly, your body creates a reflex that tightens up the muscles. It’s a protective mechanism. It’s called the stretch reflex. This reflex is there for a reason. If you were to trip and fall down, you don’t have time to think. Your body instantly tightens up to protect you. But if you’re stretching and you’re doing quick bouncy movements, your muscles tighten up and you again break rule number one.
Hold your stretch
You need to hold the stretch. Longer is better but at least at least a minimum of 10 to 15 seconds per repetition.
You can apply these rules to any movable joint in your body. Movement is vital to nice healthy joints and is what prevents arthritis. Your age has nothing to do with your flexibility. It’s an inactivity and conditioning issue. As long as you stretch everyday on a regular basis, you’ll stay nice and mobile your whole life.
Always warm up before your stretch. If people think that stretch is part of the warm-up then that’s wrong. There are three things you need to do. Number one is warm-up, then you do your workout and then you cool down with your stretching. When you’re cold, let’s say firstly morning, you get up you can stretch but you just have to be very careful and move very slowly because your ligaments and tendons inside your joints have properties similar to a stick of chewing-gum.
You take a stick of chewing-gum and put it the freezer, take it out and then bend it. What happens? It snaps. Now put the stick of chewing-gum in warm oven for a couple minutes and pull it out. Now it’s nice and pliable. Think of your joints like that. You jump up on a cold day and you start doing some heavy stretching. Researchers actually found that you get micro-tears in the fibers and they can actually set you up for an injury.
So, when you’re really cold and you haven’t worked out, you want to just gently go through a range of motion. Get some of the blood pumping through the joints and the muscles to get your body ready to work. Then you bring up your workload, you do your workout and then when you’re all warmed up, you stretch as you cool down. That’s the ideal situation. You can stretch anywhere and anytime but you just need to be careful when you are cold.
What is range of motion?
Range of motion is how far a joint moves. You have three ranges of motion and this is what people don’t understand. Your first range of motion that everybody knows about is called your active range of motion. For example, take your fingers and try to move them backwards as far as you can. There is a point where you cannot go any further. That’s the active range of motion. However, if you further push those fingers with your other hand and those fingers move further backwards, that’s the passive range of motion.
There’s a third movement called joint play. When you relax the joint and pull on this joint, it moves a little. It’s the little gap between joints. When you are inactive for a long time, you start losing your passive range of motion. You may not notice it because you can still do all your normal daily activities since that requires active range of motion. If you are still inactive, then slowly you start losing a little bit of your active range of motion. That is totally preventable if you keep the joint moving.
Stretching is vitally important to your health for your whole life and good thing is that stretching doesn’t cost anything. You could do it anywhere and anytime. You don’t need any special equipment and it feels good.
How can you incorporate stretching in your life?
You have to make stretching a priority. It has to be important in your mind or you won’t get it done at all ever. You have to look for opportunities every single day to get your stretching done. There are as many opportunities as you can imagine. For example, while driving when you stop at a red light. You can do basic upper body stretching while sitting in your car. You can move forward, backward, tilt, rotate for 15 seconds each.
Another example is when you are watching your favorite TV show. We can’t carve out these huge blocks of time to do stretching every day. But if you’re going to watch television and there’s a good show on, instead of just being on the couch getting stiffer and being a couch potato, get down on the carpet in front of the TV or on your bed and do a full body stretch in between commercials.