back pain

Stretching’s Not For Wimps

Love training, love a challenge, love to push yourself or be pushed to the max? To hit the ground running every time you workout? Love to get the sweat flying, the heart rate pumping, and your muscles burning as you challenge your body and mind?

Okay, okay, you get the picture. After all, who doesn’t love the satisfaction that comes from a tough training session?

It’s a feeling of personal power that’s hard to beat.

Now how about stretching? Love it? If you’re an intensity junkie like most of my clients, then I’m guessing stretching is on your ‘I really will get around to it one day’ list’. Who has time for stretching when you could do an extra 3 sets of weights, squeeze in another kilometre on the treadmill, or take 5 minutes for a coffee before heading back to the office.

I used to be of the ‘I’ll do it later’ brigade myself.

‘Stretching? I’ll do it when I get home’.

‘Or I’ll do a whole half hour tomorrow’

‘Or next week I’ll get to the gym half an hour early so I can fit it in’.

It never happened. Here’s what did happen: I’d get to a certain point with my training, and then have to back off because I was constantly tight or sore and needed to wait until my body recovered. One of my shoulders was starting to round forward in an unattractive and permanent fashion, and I constantly experienced left hip and low back pain. The entire left side of my body was becoming noticeably shorter than the right.

How about you? Maybe it’s nothing too bad. A niggle here, a neck ache there. The occasional sharp twinge in your knee. A mild low back pain that comes and goes. Or perhaps you are in regular pain, but you just push through it.

‘It’ll go away, you say to yourself’.

‘It’s not that bad really’.

Well maybe not yet, But why would you want to wait around and see if it does get worse. It doesn’t matter what your goal is – if you’re training regularly, and pushing your body into a state of breakdown, then you need to counter-balance with the appropriate recovery. Exercise recovery, that is, not a few drinks after work!

You need to stretch.

Here’s something else you may not realise. Stretching is not a waste of time – it won’t take time away from a chance to lose a little extra weight, or push out a few more reps. Look at it as an investment in your ability to perform with greater ease and ability in the future.

Stretch stretch stretch!

Still not convinced?

MY TOP 8 REASONS TO STRETCH

1. Your body will hold you back if you’re not limber. This is to prevent injury.
2. You will reduce muscle and joint pain
3. Your stomach muscles will work more effectively and flatten faster
4. Tight, short, chunky muscles don’t feel good and they sure don’t look good.
5. You’ll improve blood flow to the brain, aiding focus and energy
6. You’ll balance your stress and sleep-wake hormones
7. Your digestion will improve
8. Supple muscles look longer, leaner and more toned

Start stretching today.

HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT IT?

Things have changed. Lying around on your back doing static (non-moving) stretches might be relaxing, but it’s not super effective. Your muscle fibres run in diagonal patterns. This means you need to stretch in a variety of patterns. Typically, there are 3 main directions in which you should stretch:

1. Forward-back
2. Side-side
3. Rotation

I call this 3D stretching.

If you’re lucky enough to have a TruStretch cage (popularised by Gary Gray, one of America’s premier conditioning coaches, and consultant to the LA Lakers) in your gym, your task is a simple one.

Simply stand inside and follow the diagrams. You can’t really get it wrong.

If you don’t have access to a TruStretch, you can use a bar, the edge of a wall, or anything handy. To stretch in 3D you need to ensure that you move through the 3 directions in each.

FOR EXAMPLE: HAMSTRING STRETCH

Begin with one leg up on a bar/chair/table/TruStretch in front of you. Pull your toes back toward your body and lean in until you feel your hammies stretch. This is forward-back. Next, turn your body to one side. Continue leaning forward. Do both sides. This is side-side. Finally, as you continue to ‘feel’ the hammy stretch, twist your torso until you look over one shoulder. Do both sides. Now you’ve completed your first 3D stretch!

You can do this with any body part – simply move your hands around to use different bars within the cage and change the angle of the stretch, or if not using a TruStretch, twist your body in different directions (slowly). If you find it tricky to balance, try using a partner or a wall for support.

HOW LONG TO STRETCH FOR?

There are different schools of thought on this area. My recommendation is to hold each phase of the 3D stretch for at least 10 seconds. However, if you are particularly tight, can endure the stretch, and are stretching a large muscle group, I’d suggest holding each phase for as long as 30 seconds. Smaller areas (or more vulnerable) such as the neck may not require as long. You know you’ve held long enough when you feel the muscle start to ‘give’.

WHAT ELSE?

3D stretching runs on the principle that anytime you move part of your body, you affect and improve the stretch. This even applies to moving your eyes. Next time you’re holding a stretch, try looking to one side as far as you can without your head. You’re creating a neural command to rotate and this will affect muscle tension without even moving your body! You can also try twisting your foot back and forth when holding certain stretches.

SUMMING UP

To improve the way you look, feel and function (both physically and mentally), stretch daily! 3D stretching is the way to go – just keep it moving. Don’t worry about doing it wrong – if you feel a stretch, it’s working. If you need some help, engage the services a Chek Personal Trainer (http://www.chekinstitute.com). You can also try stretching in a class environment, such as yoga or body balance. That way you can’t escape and tell yourself you’ll ‘do it tomorrow’!

STILL NOT CONVINCED?

I’ve been an intense exercise junkie for years, and never used to enjoy (or really do) stretching. After finally having enough of constant tightness and pain through my left hip and low back, I started stretching 3-4 times a week. My run speed has improved by roughly 2km p/kilometre and I’m able to run comfortably every day if I choose (which I don’t generally!), whereas previously I needed a minimum 3-4 days recovery. My hip and low back pain – only the barest twinge where once it was a constant nuisance and inhibitor.

Stretch, people, stretch!

Kat Eden
Personal Trainer; Holistic Health Practitioner; BioSignature Modulation Practitioner Melbourne, Australia
Visit my blog: http://bodyincredible.com

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