Let's talk about stretching. First off, you know that you should do it. We ALL need to be doing it. It's kinda like drinking water, we know we need to be drinking more, but we give every excuse as to why we don't. Stretching truly is a game changer when it comes to your body. It really is. From the obvious reasons like improving your flexibility and mobility, to increasing blood flow to your muscles and providing a mental release. Just do it and do it often.
Here's the thing, we spend so much of our time trying to get into shape, working our bodies oh so good to try to get those muscles on point to look strong and defined. While in your fitness class, the music changes pace and slows, the instructor says, "we're gonna begin our cool down, guys," which means you barely have two minutes to slow down your breath and do some measly quad and hamstring stretches before you make a mad dash off to the next thing in life. So wrong. The truth is when the workout is over, we abandon our muscles and are usually left with the impression that the deep soreness we experience afterwards just means we crushed our workout. That's no good.
Let me ask you this, do you get massages? If so, then how often? Or how about visiting the chiropractor? Do you ever do that? If yes to either, then my follow-up question is how often do you stretch in between visits? Like most, probably never. Think of it like this, if you're putting in time and money to visit either a massage therapist or a chiropractor to provide you with some kind of release within the body, then surly you'd want those good benefits to last for as long as possible. Both are great healing remedies, but if you're not going to train and encourage your muscles to help keep the proper alignment of your body's frame, then you're missing a huge opportunity. In comes the stretching and doing it costs you nothing - you need no appointment and you don't have to leave your bedroom, much less your house.
"Stretching keeps the muscles flexible, strong, and healthy, and we need that flexibility to maintain a range of motion in the joints. Without it, the muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for activity they are weak and unable to extend all the way. That puts you at risk for joint pain, strains, and muscle damage."
Pretty straight forward and simple explanation if you ask me.
How often should I stretch?
As a professional Pilates and fitness instructor, I get asked this question quite a bit and at my studio, The WellHouse Fitness, stretching will ALWAYS take place no matter what. It's simply apart of every workout we offer and teach. Whether group classes or private sessions, stretching is incorporated. But, that doesn't mean that you should only stretch when you workout. Uh no...errryyy body needs to stretch, cuz tight muscles don't discriminate. So, even if you don't workout you should still stretch your body, and from a professional stand point I would recommend a minimum of 3x a week. And if you do workout, you don't get a free pass if you stretch right after your workout - you should still do it on non-workout days too.
What types of stretches should I be doing?
There are two different types of stretching, dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching is movement based - for example at the start of every class, we teach about a 5-10 minute warm-up that includes "dynamic stretching." In a Pilates session, we begin by doing stretches through motion to warm-up both the spine and core to make sure the integrity of the of exercises and work stay within the abdominals and not pull into the back to cause a strain. In Bounce Fit classes, we do similar exercises to awaken the body, but also to warm-up the ankle, knee, and hip joints because we bounce on rebounders.
The second type of stretching is, static. Static stretches are where you hold the position of the stretch for a certain amount of time. I would never recommend jumping right into static stretches first thing, no matter how flexible a person is. You need to get the blood moving and work on the range of motion of the joints. Think of tin-man from "The Wizard of Oz", he needs his oil can before he can move. Have you ever jumped out of bed cause you're late and bent over to stand up quick and felt a twinge...? If not lucky for you. But, static stretches should be done after the body has been warmed up and moving a bit.
If you're in a fitness class, then ideally static stretches are a good way to end your workout. For both Pilates and Bounce Fit classes we always end our sessions with either lying on our backs or at the ballet barre to stretch out our body head to toe, and this usually is the last 7-10 minutes of class. It is during this time we take a stretch and hold the position for about 30 seconds or so.
What do I need to stretch?
You honestly don't need much to achieve a great stretch sesh - your bedroom wall, bed, and floor can work just fine. But, if you can grab some tools, then my personal favorites are a yoga strap, foam roller, Pilates ring aka "magic circle," and a large yoga ball. I will link below a quick video where I use the Pilates ring to stretch. It's such a great tool to use and is a fan favorite at the studio.
I'll leave you with this, babes...we are ALL getting older, but we want to look good and feel good while we're doing it. So stretch as often as you can. It costs you nothing but some of your time that would be well spent. I personally love a nice quiet moment all to myself, maybe with a little music in the background going whilst I let the tension go, but I don't always (rarely, is more like it) get to have the quiet moments to do it. So...I have been known to lift up a leg onto my counter top while chatting with a gal pal and sipping on some wine. I have no shame.