I never struggled with injury problems because of my preparation –
in particular my stretching.
– Edwin Moses – Olympic Gold Medalist-Track and Field
During my days at Follies, where I performed as an acro-dancer (a dancer who does gymnastics in the show) I was one of only a few dancers on stage 30 min before show time running around the stage to warm-up. After about 5 min of running I would plop onto the floor and begin my stretching warm-up.
Unlike most of the dancers in the show, I am not naturally limber. I have always had to work at getting my splits and backbends, and properly prepare my body for what it was about to endure: jumping, running, leaping, tumbling, with sharp directional changes, mostly in heals, with the exception of the tumbling number: The Can-Can, which required us to wear a ten pound dress (see pic).
Everybody is different
So why are some people more flexible then others? There are several factors when it comes to how flexible someone is.
- Life-style (how active a person is) certainly affect how flexible a person is.
- Some people genetically have more limber joints.
- People who tend to live care-free lives may be more limber due to decreased muscle tension.
Being too limber can cause issues. If the joints and ligaments are too loose, they fail to properly support the body.
For example, during pregnancy, the body is flooded with hormones that prepare the body for the growing fetus and the birth. Therefore, pregnant woman are more prone to strains and sprains. (Click Here for more on Pilates during pregnancy)
I have had clients who come to me with flexible joints, but tight muscles. With these clients we work towards stabilizing the joints through muscle control and proper stretching which I discuss below.
Stretching is the best thing you can do for your body (in addition to other healthy lifestyle choices such as cardiovascular training, proper diet, and healthy relationships.) Experts say, if you don’t do anything else, just stretch! It is the most natural movement the body engages in.
Let’s think about an animal- cat or dog, maybe. Whats one of the first things they do after a sleep session? They reach their front legs out in front of them and reach their tails behind them, lengthening their spines, preparing to move! Humans also instinctively do this when they reach their arms up to the sky after a long nights sleep.
We are constantly using our muscles to perform activities of daily living (ADLs).
- Walking requires the use of the core, upper and lower limbs.
- Driving requires the use of the upper body, legs and feet.
- Dressing and Grooming requires coordination, balance, and use of the upper limbs
- Parents with babies and/or toddlers endure the constant increase of weight of the baby.
- Yard work, laundry, dishes
This list could go on and on. Consider also your profession. What specific movements (or non-movements) are you engaging in on a regular basis? All of this constant repetitive motion with no relief puts the body at serious risk for pain and injury.
Here a just a few of the many Benefits of Stretching:
- Increased Energy-Stretching increases blood flow to the muscles, helping us to feel alert
- Reduced pain-many sources of pain come from tight muscles
- Improved Posture-tight muscles restrict the spine
- Prevent Injury-stretched muscles bounce back – think of wet clay vs. hard clay
- Reduce Stress-Stretching relaxes the muscles and the mind!
- Slim Down-Stretching lengthens muscle tissue, resulting in lean muscle
- Overall Positive Sense of Well-Being – We were created to MOVE People!!
How to stretch?
Here are some tips to stretch safely and effectively:
1. Always warm up the body before stretching. 5-10 min of cardio to warm the muscles will suffice. Click here for cardio ideas.
2. Breath Through Stretches 20-30 seconds
How to Breath:
1. Inhale through the nose, filling the lungs by focusing the breath into the back like your filling a balloon (your diaphragm)
- Back of the ribs should expand
- Allow the chest to rise,
- The front of the ribs should drop down by keeping the belly softly back
- (This is Pilates breathing-allowing for continuous engagement of the abs.)
2. Exhale through the mouth, deflating the lungs of the air like deflating a balloon
- Back of the ribs should close in
- Belly sinks back further
3. Engage Abdominals (Belly to the Spine) primarily before and during movement from one position to the other. Remain aware of Belly to the Spine throughout stretches and exercises.
4. Think of your muscles like rubber bands. To achieve the most efficient stretch you have to achieve oppositional pull; pulling each end of the muscle you are stretching away from each other.
5. Relax into your stretch. If the stretch is too painful, you will clench up, defeating the purpose of stretching.
There are several ways to stretch.
Here is one of my favorite stretches for the chest, hips, and back-Twist Stretch!
Below is a picture of me stretching over a big ball-an amazing all over stretch. (Bend Knees to modify)
These are just a few of the many feel good stretches you can do to wake up the body and increase flexibility.
You can contact me at email@example.com with questions.
Ramsay, Craig Anatomy of Stretching: A Guide to Increasing your Flexibility