Since the start of September I have been exercising consistently. It has felt amazing to get back into living a healthy lifestyle. I have gradually increased the exercises I am doing, I have even increased the laps I am swimming. I was feeling so AWESOME!
I took a teeny tiny break while we had company, I went for a swim but other than that I was pretty relaxed and indulged a little food wise. When I returned to exercising, I guess I over did it a little and my right foot burned with pain. For a week now I have been limping on and off, icing, heating, stretching, going for a massage and not running. It is so not fun.
The lesson I am taking from this experience is that I really need to give more focus to my stretching and flexibility. I have often looked upon those who don’t have to stretch with awe and envy. However I am working on changing my mindset on that.
Clearly, my body wants me to stretch. When I do not pay particular attention to my cool down and stretch my muscles my recovery time is longer, I am more tender, I tend to be susceptible to injuries.
So why is stretching so darn important?
- Stretching increases your flexibility and your range of motion. When you are swimming, running or strength training, range of motion is so so important.
- When your muscles are tight and rigid, exercise is not fun and rather painful, stretching releases some of that tension and tightness.
- Helps you improve your balance. Tightening muscles throw your whole body off kilter, by stretching those muscles out you regain that balance physically. Honestly, mentally I feel more balance after I have stretched, especially after yoga.
After reading tons of articles on the internet there are a lot of “facts” out there on stretching. From what I can tell (without diving way deeper into it, pulling academic articles etc), there have been mixed results from studies on whether stretching improves performance and helps avoid injury.
My own personal experience has been, if I spend more time and energy stretching, I feel better, recover faster, get injured less and experience less muscle tightness and shortening.
Some tips on stretching that are working for me:
1. Focus on the muscles that are the tightest and sore. For me that is usually my quads and calves. That doesn’t mean I skip my upper body stretches, however I do spend more time holding my lower body stretches. My osteopath recommended holding my quad stretch for 2 minutes (which is so LONG, not really but it sure feels like it!) I tend to do this stretch in the pool, after my laps. I sip my water, listen to tunes and hold my quad stretch for two minutes. My legs feel so awesome after!
2. Schedule one or more long flexibility sessions in your week. I am still working on this one. I always feel so awesome after I go to a yoga class, doing so even once a week will help so much. I tend to do short bursts of yoga, early morning or after running. However adding a longer session to my week is so a priority.
3. Set a positive intention to your time stretching. “Arg I am so tight”, “Stretching sucks” should be replaced with better, positive mantras such as, “Damn this is soooo what my body needs” or “Seriously I am getting more bendy and flexy every time I do this stretch, RAWR”. I have found, if I take the approach that stretching is my way of rewarding my body for working out so hard, my flexibility session goes so much better.
4. Dim the lights, set the tone. They do it at yoga all the time right? So when you have worked your tail off, set the stage for your body and mind to relax, let go and stretch. When I work out at home, I always listen to music with a good beat, when it is time for that cool down, stretch I slow the music down and turn off the lights.
Ok so we get it right? Stretch. Loads. The following are a few of my favourite stretch and flexibility routines you can find online.
I have mentioned Flexible Warrior Yoga before, I absolutely love love love her approach to yoga, flexibility and sport. She shares some awesome Youtube videos, running yoga, foam rolling and more. The videos are all like 10-15 minutes long, she is super positive and down to earth.
The ToneitUp team also has a video for stretching that feels great and works a lot of muscles.
Do you stretch regularly? What are your favourite ways to work on flexibility?