Author: Dr. Gary Huber
Stretching is key to maintaining proper joint mobility. It's key for freeing up the body which will serve to free the mind.
Keeping the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments of the body in good health requires many elements. Just as exercise is a key ingredient to joint health, so is proper stretching. Whether you are a novice or an elite athlete, proper stretching facilitates good mobility and resets the proper muscle fiber length that helps maintain body symmetry. Many of us have never been taught to stretch properly and in fact may have been taught bad techniques that contribute to injury.
Here are some guidelines for you to follow whether you are beginning a new habit or improving upon an old one.
- Never stretch cold muscles. Always perform some type of low intensity activity to increase blood flow and tissue temperature before engaging in a stretching routine. Simple options include walking at a slow pace and build to a brisk walk or light jog. Pedaling a stationary bike or working an elliptical trainer or treadmill. Calisthenics like jumping jacks or even running in place are also options. This activity should last for a minimum of 3 minutes and preferably 5 minutes or longer until you feel properly prepared.
- Never push any given stretch to the point of pain. A proper stretch involves taking the muscle to the point of feeling a pulling sensation along the axis of the muscle but not to the point that it creates discomfort. The natural tendency of a muscle stretched beyond healthy limits is for the muscle to spasm and retract which is in direct opposition to our goal. We want to gently coax the muscle into an elongated state and avoid spasm.
- Never hold a given stretch for a long period of time. By stretching a muscle or joint we are interfering with the blood supply to that muscle and holding a given stretch too long creates hypoxia or a state of oxygen deprivation. Hold the stretch while you take 2 deep breathes in and out, then release. Feel the impact of those 2 breaths as this inhale motion creates a slow easy accentuation of the stretch. Come back to it if you need to but after the second breath give the muscle a few seconds to regain blood flow and then readdress it.
- Proper stretching means taking the muscle to the point of a comfortable stretch and then holding it there as you take 2 deep breaths. As you take a deep breath, the simple act of filling your lungs with air will put an additional mild stretch on the muscle. As you exhale you might find that you now have added laxity in the joint or muscle and can “relax” into the stretch just a bit more. Take the second breath and as you exhale release the stretch. Now go to a different stretch such as working the opposite side before returning to the stretch just performed.
- Stretching should be enjoyable and relaxing, not tense and painful. If you have limited flexibility then allow yourself time through repeated practice to gain flexibility gradually. Never force it.
I highly recommend a stretching DVD by Charlie Trezevant who is a 4th degree Master Instructor and can show you everything you need to know about proper stretching. His DVD is entitled “Functional Flexibility” and is a 90 minute instructional video that is comprehensive from head to toe, safe for any beginner and proven to get results even in the most seasoned professional athlete.
Stretching needs to a part of everyone’s fitness regimen and for those of you who are new to exercise or just returning after a long hiatus, then this is an excellent starting point. Base recommendation is 20 minutes three times a week. For great results stretch every day after a gentle warm up.
The benefits of stretching include:
- Increased flexibility and better range of motion of your joints
- Better posture
- Improved circulation
As we age our joint laxity can begin to close down and become more “tight”. This will lead to abnormal movement patterns and increase wear and tear on the joints. The joints normal position becomes altered or rotated. This is why we need to accentuate the stretching habit as we age to ensure better movement, less joint pain and enhanced quality of life.
Motion affects Emotion so a body that's tight with little movement will contribute to a mind and a life that is also limited. Freeing the body will serve to free the mind.