Stretching in an instinctive movement and one we see in not only our physical behaviors but in the observation of animals. Looking more closely at our domesticated pets, we see this as a biological response that is ingrained in animals. As a result, they are more agile predators, with better balance and better muscular coordination.
Why is this movement ingrained in animal’s natures?
Stretching is a form of gentle massage for your major muscle groups and important to do before you exercise for the same reasons. It oxygenates the muscles you’re going to use, and at the same time prepares those muscles prior to doing work with them. This will prevent tearing or injuries. That in itself is worth the effort! You stretch before your workout, and after the workout is completed. Stretching will help with your flexibility and will also aid you in offsetting any muscular soreness post-workout.
Don’t become confused: stretching is not the same as warming up or cooling down, but you can combine elements of stretching with both of those to obtain good results. The flexibility portion is very important as well. There are two types of stretching you should be aware of.
- Static stretches involve flexing or extending the body part and enabling the stretch to occur gradually and carefully.
- Dynamic stretching is more akin to what we talked about with waking up in the morning…a combination of stretching, extension, and massage.
You will find that it can help you if you have high physical activity in your workday and if you’re on your feet all day long. For the latter, some deep knee bends and then take a seat to massage the thighs and calves, and some calf-raises can help to get the circulation going and delay fatigue.
How To Effectively Stretch
Start with your legs and arms. Stretch them out fully, and slowly. You don’t want “jerky” motions, but instead, it should be just akin to a pot of boiling water that does not go from cold immediately to hot…it warms up first. Same thing for your muscles. While you’re lying there (supine, preferably – that’s on your back), also massage and knead your thighs vertically with your palms. As you’re stretching the legs, also massage your calf muscles.
Flex and extend your feet…up and down. Stretch out your arms, and massage the bicep and tricep for about a minute with the opposite hand. Interlock the fingers of your hands and stretch out those arms, breathing deeply (Note: the more deeply you breathe, the more oxygen you get to the muscle groups), Massage the neck muscles with your hands. Then rise up and get out of bed. For a higher intense stretch, consider using an elastic band to further stretch the muscles.
What you have just accomplished: you’ve warmed up and limbered up your muscles, as well as increasing the blood flow to your extremities, helping the circulation to your periphery (that’s the outermost areas of your limbs, and so forth). You are oxygenating those muscles by breathing in deeply. You are physically giving yourself an edge even before you get out of bed. Takes a few minutes, and its worth it in the long run. You can even do this while sitting at your desk at work!
A perfect example of healthy stretching can be found in Yin yoga, a form of yoga that involves variations of seated and supine poses typically held for 3 to 5 minutes, accessing deeper layers of fascia. This is a more gentle type of practice that awakens dormant energy, helps to strengthen the body and, ultimately, gives you a better range of mobility.
For more strenuous fields such as heavy construction and the building trades, a full-blown warm up and stretching are essential, along with taking in enough fluids and electrolytes prior to going into action. Refer to one of my past articles that details turning your job into a physical training session for some more info in this department. Bottom line: it is a basic, non-invasive pursuit that will yield results for you. In short: it works. Watch a cat. He will stretch out before running in hot pursuit to the hunt. Animals have it right in this area. Learn from them and stay in that good fight. JJ out!