How To Incorporate Stretching Into Your Daily Schedule

Written by Nikki Lodge – Exercise Physiologist SWSM

Why is stretching important?

Stretching is an extremely important practice to add into your daily routine for everyone. I often hear people say that “only people with injuries should stretch” or that “it’s only for people who are out of shape”. Well, it’s time to learn some truths about stretching and how easy it is to incorporate stretching into your daily routine.

There are three main components of exercise training;

  • Cardiovascular and Respiratory Endurance
  • Muscular Strength and Endurance and
  • Flexibility

The first two components seem to get a lot of attention and even small gains are noticeable within a week or two, but what about flexibility training? A lot of people seem to skip straight past this component, give up or are not consistent with their training. It’s true the benefits of flexibility training take a lot longer to see, however it’s worth the wait!

But there’s a catch! As you age flexibility becomes even more important. Being flexible helps to improve mobility, stability and maintain better joint health as well as combat some of those common aches and pains we all get from day to day. However, you can’t wake up when you’re 65 and suddenly be just as fit and flexible as you were when you were 22. It’s much more effective to gradually work flexibility training into your daily life, or workout routine, throughout your life. So what are you waiting for? Even if you’re 65 it’s not too late. You just need to be realistic about your results and have a good program.

What are the benefits of stretching?

Stretching to benefit your mind. Stretching provides your mind with a mental break and can help you to relax resulting in a calmer and more positive mindset. Many individuals carry stress in their muscles. When you are feeling overwhelmed, your muscles tighten, acting as a defensive strategy.  The more you stretch the less muscle tension you will hold, which is a very effective form of stress management. Stretching also allows for an increased blood and nutrient flow throughout the body, increasing your energy levels. So why not try a Yoga or Pilates class next time you’re at the gym?

But what about the body? Most people know that stretching regularly can improve flexibility, but there are many other benefits too.

  • Posture: Poor posture is becoming an increasing problem, which we see in the clinic regularly for many people. Poor postural patterns can often be reversed with daily stretching and self-mobilisation techniques and basic strengthening exercises. Because stretching strengthens your muscles and encourages proper alignment, your body posture will be less slouched and more upright.
  • Injury Prevention: The more you prepare your muscles for training or exercise, the likelihood of injury is decreased. When your muscles are warm and stretched, movement becomes more efficient and fluid, which helps with injury prevention.
  • Increased Nutrients and Reduced Soreness: Stretching increases blood and nutrient supply to the muscles. An increased blood and nutrient supply helps reduce soreness and improve post-exercise recovery.

Here are a few important things to remember!

  • Stretching is not a warm up activity: You may be a little confused—isn’t stretching a warm-up?  How do you warm up for stretching?  There is much disbelief out there stating that stretching should be done before a work out is started. However, this is not necessarily true. Stretching with cold muscles may result in injury. Stretching is most effective when muscles are warm. It is best to stretch after a small bout of physical activity e.g. a brisk walk or jog to warm up your muscles first, next you can start some static stretching, dynamic stretching and even some event/exercise specific drills before you begin your workout or game.
  • Focus on muscles that are tight: Tight muscles are a result of soreness and stress. Once these previously tense muscles are stretched, movement becomes more fluid, soreness is reduced and appropriate technique can be maintained throughout your movement patterns.
  • Reduce Bouncing: Bouncing while stretching may slightly tear muscles, which may lead to scar tissue, which further tighten the muscle leading to decreased flexibility and increased soreness. Stretches should be held for about 10-30 seconds and repeated three or four times. The amount of time spent holding stretches can depend on how sore you are and which muscles you want to focus on specifically.
  • Stretch at least 2-3 days per week for at least 10 minutes a day: If you take 10 minutes out of your day to stretch and try to do so at least 2-3 days a week, you will achieve the most benefits. If you stretch on an irregular schedule, your body will not be able to maintain a consistent range of motion. Why not even spend 5 minutes of your lunch break stretching or if you’re sitting at your desk for long periods, try to stand up and stretch at least every hour.
  • Focus on good technique & be consistent: Make sure that you are stretching correctly in order to prevent injury. If you are injured and already have a tense muscle do not overwork it. If you are stretching and you feel pain, it is absolutely crucial for you to ease up on the tense muscle in order to prevent further damage. Also try to focus on major muscle tendon. These include: neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back, pelvis, hips, and legs.

So where to now?

If you’re starting a flexibility program for the first time it’s important that you speak to your trainer or Allied Health Professional (Exercise Physiologist) to help you develop a flexibility program that best suits your needs, muscular imbalances/dysfunctions and lifestyle. Remember that the stretches that work for one particular sport or person might not be the best for another sport or person.

When developing a new flexibility routine think about your daily life; does your job involve a lot of lifting or bending or are you sitting for prolonged periods? Also think about the sports you might play; are you a golfer? or perhaps a swimmer or dancer?

Make sure to set yourself realistic goals and ease into your new routine. Remember flexibility is more that doing a few half-hearted hamstring stretches for 5 seconds before you go for a walk or start your squats. Yes, it’s better than nothing, but you won’t see the long-term benefits as you would with a well-developed and consistent flexibility program. Trust me, you’ll be grateful you stuck with your flexibility program in years to come!

Lastly, you don’t have to do the same flexibility routine every day, boring right? Within the program created for you, you can use power bands, swiss balls, foam rollers, muscle equalisers, sprinters sticks etc. the list is endless! These aids can often help you go deeper into your stretch and target problem areas. Variety in your flexibility program will also make you more likely to stick to your training plan. Stretching is a great way to take a break from your busy day to recharge and strengthen your body and your mind so have fun!

 

Posted: 26 September 2018