Being fit and healthy means a lot of things to a lot of people. There are many components to being fit and healthy, building and maintaining muscle and aerobic fitness are just some. You need to think about flexibility, too. Stretching can help.

You may think of stretching as something performed only by runners or gymnasts. But we all need to stretch in order to protect our mobility and independence. Stretching has to happen on a regular basis, preferably daily.

 

Why stretching is important

Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity, they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage.

For example, sitting in the car traveling for extended periods may results in tight hamstrings in the back of the thigh. That can make it harder to extend your leg or straighten your knee all the way, which inhibits walking and why you might get out of the car when you reach your next camp a bit stiff!

Likewise, when tight muscles are suddenly called on for a strenuous activity that stretches them, such as running around with the kids, they may become damaged from suddenly being stretched. Injured muscles may not be strong enough to support the joints, which can lead to joint injury.

Regular stretching keeps muscles long, lean, and flexible, and this means that exertion won’t put too much force on the muscle itself. Healthy muscles also help a person with balance problems to avoid falls.

Where to start

With a body full of muscles, the idea of daily stretching may seem overwhelming. The areas critical for mobility are in your lower extremities: your calves, your hamstrings, your hip flexors (in the pelvis) and quadriceps (in the front of the thigh). Stretching your shoulders, neck, and lower back is also beneficial. Aim for a program of daily stretches or at least three or four times per week. Below I outline my daily stretching routine, and highlight the muscle I am focussing on to keep my body feeling relaxed. If you need some help with specific areas that are tight or aching, please don’t hesitate to drop me a message.

The cumulative effect of stretching

Stretching once today won’t magically give you perfect flexibility. You’ll need to do it over time and remain committed to the process. Some of the photos in this article have taken me a lot of time to achieve that level of flexibility. It may have taken you many months to get tight muscles, so you’re not going to be perfectly flexible after one or two sessions. The key is to stay consistent and make it part of your daily routine eg as soon as you get out of bed.

Proper execution

Hold a stretch for 30 seconds. Don’t bounce, which can cause injury. You’ll feel tension during a stretch, but you should not feel pain. If you do, there may be an injury or damage in the tissue. Stop stretching that muscle and talk to your doctor.

Quadratus Lumborum (QL) Stretch

The QL is the deepest abdominal muscle. It’s located in your lower back on either side of the lumbar spine. It starts at your lowest rib and ends at the top of your pelvis. This muscle is used to sit, stand, and walk.  The QL is one of the prime sources of lower back pain.  It becomes painful & tight when we sit too long due to reduced blood flow to the surrounding areas, weak back muscles and poor posture.

Hip Flexors Stretch

The hip flexors are made up of a number of muscle and their primary function is to flex the hip, lifting the knee and bring your thigh towards your abdomen (so basically walking).  They attach to your spine and are really important part of the core muscles and to stabilize your spine.  Hence, you can see that if they were tight and have reduced mobility how they are likely to cause hip, back and knee pain.

Hamstring Stretch

The hamstrings are also made up of a group of muscles at the rear of the upper leg. The hamstrings flex the knee joint and extend the hip at the beginning of each step. They are used in walking, running, and many other physical activities.  If these muscles are tight and weak you might feel it in the lower back and hip.

Cat/Cow stretch

One of my all time favourites, because it just feels good.  You might associate this stretch with yoga, as it it often done in those classes. It is a simple way to get your spine moving and prevent back pain.  Inhale and tilt your pelvis back for the cow pose, then exhale and tuck your tailbone for the cat pose.

If you need some help with particular stretches or specific aches and pains, don’t hesitate to send me a message.

If you are interested in a program to increase your fitness, lose weight, increase muscle or improve any aspect of wellbeing such as mobility and flexibility, I can design a program specific to your needs via my Online Personal Coaching Program

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