Print Edition: July 16, 2014
Gym class always featured me dying on the track and then being forced back to my feet in order to stretch my legs (even though one of them had already fallen off and ran away after that last lap). Stretching was always my favourite part of the class. We were never fully educated on the importance of it, though. I don’t know about you, but the only stretching I do is either when I’m just waking up, or when I have a really sore leg and the only way to make it feel better is to somehow twist and fold it around my entire body.
According to a number of sources, this is an unacceptable amount of stretching. A majority of the articles I read even went so far as to say that stretching is just as important as daily exercise. Not only does your body benefit from it, but so does your mind. That makes sense, seeing as how you’re literally just sitting there basking in your own thoughts. You’re bound to find the solution even to world peace eventually.
But until you go far enough to cure the world, you’ll start small. Just 10 minutes of stretching can clear your mind and put you in a calmer state from which you started. It helps recharge your brain, giving it a little kick-start to help it along as you putter through your day.
Stretching for just 10 to 15 minutes a day helps your body increase in flexibility, corrects your posture, and increases the blood and nutrient supply to your muscles, which greatly reduces soreness. Because of this newfound increased circulation, it’s quite common for people to also feel more energetic in their daily lives.
It’s greatly recommended to throw in a flexibility workout at least once a week into your regime. Taking a yoga class, for example, not only stretches muscles you didn’t even know you had, but also improves said muscles. You’ll get a strength and flexibility workout all in one, and will leave the class feeling like a million-dollar human pretzel.
If you think about it, a good chunk of physical therapy is pure stretching. About.com’s physical therapy page caught my eye as I attempted to find some information that hadn’t already been drilled through one ear and out the other throughout my life. Yes, stretching is good for you. However, there are certain techniques to follow if you want to do it right and not risk injuring yourself.
The first rule from About.com’s physical therapy page is to never stretch before exercising. I found this surprising, since I just figured that all kinds of stretching were good. Apparently stretching cold, unexercised muscles can increase the risk of pulling a muscle. It’s important to either do a quick warm-up first, or just stretch it all out once you’ve finished exercising.
Another rule on this website — one that I had carved into me while growing up — was to never bounce while stretching. You know you’ve done it. You’re sitting there with your leg stretched out, holding onto your foot while gently bouncing your torso. That’s got to stop. Bouncing can cause small tears in the muscle, resulting in scar tissue. This, in turn, causes the muscles to tighten even further, making your body more prone to pain.
If you feel pain, stop. “No pain, no gain” gets tossed out the window in this circumstance. If you’re in pain, you’d better stop before you gain a trip to the hospital.
Always make sure to breathe through your stretches, too. I often find myself holding in my breath as I reach for my toes or twist my back around. And when I tell you to breathe, I don’t mean tiny little huffs and puffs. I’m talking about big, deep breaths that speak to your soul and rattle your bones. Calming breaths. The breathing aspect of stretching is basically the equivalent to the stretching aspect of exercise. Ergo, if you’re not breathing while stretching, all the stretches you’ve done are almost pointless and have had next to no effect on your body.
It’s recommended to stretch right when you wake up and before you go to sleep. Let’s be honest, I’m too lazy in the morning and too tired at night. However, if you find time throughout the day to pop in a quick rendezvous to the floor to get some stretching done, I’d recommend it. Only good things can come out of it.