If you want to see good movement, watch kids play. Recently I took my kids to the park to play around on the large playground there. Their motion was free and easy as they climbed stairs, slid down slides and swung like monkeys from the bars. I was impressed, and must admit, a bit jealous, at the ease in which their young bodies moved around. How and why did we lose this ability to move so easily? The easy answer is because we age, and stiffness and loss of mobility is a natural consequence of this aging process. True that. But could it also be, at least in part because we sit on our rear ends for several hours a day, don’t exercise much, and think stretching is a dirty word!
Many of us have no problem with lifting weights, walking or running to improve our fitness. But stretching? Well that’s often the forgotten and neglected red headed step child of fitness. We neglect stretching and flexibility exercises to our own detriment. In fact, I can think of nothing as important than proper stretching to improve our movement and prevent and reduce injury, decrease pain, improve strength and increase performance in all aspects of our lives.
Most of us have several areas in our bodies that are tight and lacking full motion. The key is to identify those areas and address them through appropriate stretches. Because we tend to do things alike, there are common tight areas in our bodies. These areas include, our upper backs/ chest muscles, hips and hamstrings and our calves.
There are a few things to keep in mind when stretching. First, always warm up before stretching. Just as an motorized engine need to warm up properly before driving, so too do our bodies need to warm up before stretching. Just start moving to warm up.
Dynamic stretching is the type of stretching that involves moving our bodies freely and is best done right before exercise as a warm up, or right after exercise as a cool down.
Static stretching is where you place a muscle on stretch and hold it for a period of time, usually 30 seconds. Why 30 seconds? Well, studies show that 30 seconds is better than 15 or 20 seconds, and just as effective as a minute in achieving an effective stretch. You should breath and relax slowly into the stretch. While stretching may not be comfortable, it should not be painful. If it is, do not push it as that may indicate an underlying problem that should be addressed by a trained professional.
Remember the saying, motion is lotion. Stretching can and should be done on a near daily basis. While we may never move quite as easily kids on a playground, frequent stretching will help increase our ability to move better, prevent injury and do more of those things we love to do.
Darren Marchant, PT,MSPT,OCS
FIT Physical Therapy