In Defence of Stretching

It is easy to get caught up in the rigour and hype of exercise. You can be on a high when you are running and when you make it back home it is easy to flop on the couch, have some water and call it a day. The same thing can apply when you work out at the gym – you can become so focused on trying to build up strength, burning calories, cardio, and working on your abs that you just leave the gym without properly stretching.

I lecture as if I am not guilty and that would be the pot calling the kettle black. The more I take yoga and dance classes, it has become quite apparent to me that stretching is key. I am certainly more flexible now than I was when I was a teenager, but I credit yoga for that. Stretching really will help create long and lean muscle lines but also keep you limber. I find that when I consistently stretch, my body (my back in particular) just feel better.

Apparently, the medical community is skeptical about the benefits of stretching and that it is not necessarily detrimental to your body if you do not stretch after exercising. To this I say, bullshit. If I run 10k and do not (at the very least!) stretch out my calves or my thighs, I am going to feel it the next day. I am going to develop shin splints and my achilles will shorten over time. I can feel my Achilles tightening as I think about not stretching. I must say, as much as I enjoy running – I am quite the cynic when I read running magazines. It is not that I don’t think that there is no value in some of those articles but I grew up in the dance world – we don’t stretch and we don’t believe ingesting weird little gel packs for energy.

It also seems to be a fad right now (that I myself am buying in to!) that everyone wants to have lean muscles and bodies like that of a dancer’s. Isometric movements followed by stretching are the fastest and surest way for lean muscles to be built up. When you have increased flexibility, your body will work other muscles in a general muscle area to keep your leg up for instance and this will actually help to keep you injury free for the most part. It does a lot more than being bulky does. I know a lot of people who are beautiful and have bulky muscles but can barely touch their toes.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been trying to stretch as much as possible after my runs or gym trips. I like to go home while I’m still warm, grab my yoga mat and play a 20-30 minute playlist that will relax me and actually place me in the frame of mind to stretch. I usually only do static stretching after a workout. When you stretch, your sensory receptors tell your muscles to contract. By performing a static stretch and holding the stretch, your body will eventually relax and surrender to the stretch – and allowing for more space to increase the flexibility.

Here are some stretching routines that I like to do:

I also like to stretch my hip flexors/psoas in a lunge with my back knee bent:

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I usually also stretch in a straddle second with my feet flat against a wall and pick my behind up and move it closer in to the wall slowly.

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Be careful as to not overwork your stretch – if your leg starts convulsing or quivering, back off!

For my next post, I will share some of my relaxing tunes to help you through your stretch as well.

Happy stretching! Peace. xx.

-H.

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