Stretching to Move Better and to Feel Better

Mobility is important. Moving well is important. It’s important to feel good. It’s also an important aspect of our quality of life as we age. Most of us spend too much of our day sitting down. If you spend a significant amount of time at a desk or in a vehicle, it’s especially important to incorporate stretching into your routine. Poor mobility can cause your muscles to feel tight and your posture to suffer. It can also cause imbalances that result in compensations that harm your movement patterns.

Poor mobility and muscle imbalance may lead to aches and pains as well as injuries. This can lead to a downward spiral of inactivity that sometimes goes along with age. When your mobility is poor, it doesn’t feel good to move.

When it doesn’t feel good to move, you move less.  When you move less, you lose more of your movement abilities…and so on

The primary goal of stretching is to increase and maintain range of motion.  Lets talk about two types of stretching, what the difference is between then, and when to do them.

Static stretching. When people think about the concept of stretching, it’s often static stretching that comes to mind. These are the type you hold for a more extended time duration. Performing static stretching consistently over time will improve your range of motion and mobility. To achieve initial gains, it’s recommended you initially commit to performing your stretch routine several times a week. After you have achieved some improvement, you may reduce the sessions or the duration to maintain your improvements. However, don’t end up reducing them so much that they fall out of your program altogether. Make sure you make stretching a part of your lifestyle so as to not revert and lose the gains you’ve made.

How long should I hold static stretches? The literature supports holding static stretches for twenty to thirty seconds maximum. The reason for this is because most of the stress relaxation occurs in the first fifteen to twenty seconds of the stretch. This means that after fifteen to twenty seconds, your muscle starts to relax, and you can provide less force to hold the stretch in the same position.  Perform these static stretches slowly, and don’t go so far into them that it hurts. Start with a light stretch, and increase as you feel comfortable doing so. If the speed or the force of the stretch is too high, sensors in the muscles may respond by tightening up as a protective mechanism. Ease into the stretch until you feel some tension. If you feel any discomfort or pain, reset and start again. You may find that during the second or third repeat, you’ll be able to go farther into the stretch as your muscles loosen up.  And don’t forget to breath and relax as much as you are able during the stretch!

Dynamic stretching. These are moving stretches that often mimic the motion that will eventually be performed afterward during the workout session. This type of stretching is good for both cool-down and warm-up sessions. Using dynamic stretching as part of the warm-up will help prepare and loosen muscles for the demand that will be placed on them.  They will lower resistance in the muscles you are about to work out, improve oxygen delivery, increase metabolic reactivity, and may result  in you having a more effective workout. A workout may even consist of a series of dynamic stretches and nothing more! Dynamic stretches as a cool-down will circulate blood, help clear waste products from the muscles, and allow for better circulation as your heart rate comes down, all which prevent pooling of blood from happening.

How long should I do dynamic stretches? Hold the end-point of each position for just one or two seconds. Keep moving through the set. Most of the dynamic stretches will either have you moving your extremities through a range of motion, one side at a time, or alternating sides. A ballpark number of repetitions is in the range of 8 to 12 on each side, or 10 repetitions total if the stretch is targeting both sides of the body. The number of repetitions of course depends on the movements being performed. Rest as needed between sets—you may be surprised how much work these movements can feel like if you’re working through tight muscles. Never bounce or push so hard that it’s painful.

 

Foam Rolling and Self Massage 

There are a variety of rollers and self-massage tool available that are relatively inexpensive. Learning to properly use these can have many benefits.  These include increased circulation, reduced muscle tension, and breaking up scar tissue that has built up in the muscle, all things which aid in recovery.  Additional benefits include pain relief, increased mobility and decreased tightness, as well as improved posture and body awareness. I love to use them as a tool for some of the stretches tool(see the upper spine stretch video below).  Plus, it just feels really good to roll out the knots in the back of your legs and upper shoulders after a long day at the office, or a long stretch of traveling.

Foam rollers are great, and there are a variaty of sizes, firmness levels and textures available. There are also a variety massage sticks, and balls.  They are easy to travel with, and you can use them where.  You don’t need a partner. There is no one size fits all, and you want to find one that works for you.   Rolling sore muscles may help you discover your tender spots, but it shouldn’t be so uncomfortable that you tense up, or don’t want to do it.  Chose a firmness with that in mind, and also chose the amount of pressure you put on the roller with that in mind.  You should feel like you are able to stay loose, relax, and enjoying the session.

 

Below are 3 static stretches for 3 different areas of the body you can do to help your posture and alleviate tightness.

They are particularly good for vulnerable populations that suffer a lack of mobility due to their daily living activities.  This includes such as those who spend a lot of time seated in front of a computer for work, or dealing with imbalances from previous injuries.

Upper Spine and Torso Stretch

 

Hamstring Stretch (back of legs) 

 

Hip Flexor Stretch(front of thigh and hip area)