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Stretching is something most of us were introduced to at school. The required 5 minute speedy warm up at the beginning of a PE class. Done as a routine with rarely a thought about technique, the practice of stretching remains unchanged for many of us.
Stretching is something most of us have been advised to do at some point with varying degrees of success and enjoyment! It is often that annoying thing you know you should be doing and either a) give it a cursory 2 minute half hearted attention before or after gardening, a long walk or run or b) give it 10seconds of thought before prioritising it out!
So my big question is…
When regular stretching is SUCH a good thing for us to be doing, why on earth don’t we do it?!?
My theories are as follows;
It doesn’t feel good so why would you want to do it?! Perhaps it hurts, makes you more achey or sore afterwards or is hard work and not enjoyable.
It doesn’t change anything. You either feel as tight / restricted after stretching as you did before or feel no change for the benefit in your body as a result.
SO, today I’d like to give you my essential guide to stretching, in the hope that it will help encourage you all to do it more and feel better as a result!
1. Stretching is unique and personal to YOU and only YOU
There are so many ways we can use and load our body and this will also depend on what jobs, sports, compensations, injuries, illnesses, beliefs etc you have. There are many variables. So, when doing ANY stretch the only thing you should focus on is you and your body and how it feels.
2. LISTEN to your body whilst you do it
What is it trying to tell you? You should have focus on what you are doing. By being present to the stretch and paying attention to how it feels and where in your body is reacting to the stretch, you will pick up on signs that will make your stretch feel better, more effective and give you better results.
3. STOP PUSHING SO HARD!
Muscles, like people, respond better to gentle calm encouragement NOT an iron fist and force! When you put on a stretch so hard that it is bordering on unbearable and not sustainable for 30seconds to 1minute, your actual muscle fibres won’t want to let go and melt. If you go more gently and stop at the first point of stretch and start there, you are much more likely to achieve a result than forcing it. Why would your muscles want to relax with your entire body weight of force behind the stretch? This isn’t going to feel good and won’t be as effective.
If you are holding your breath you are likely trying way too hard with too much force. Back off a little and use your breath to help relax your body and muscles.
5. RELEASE to RELAX
Relax is a hard word for most of us to hear, understand and do, let alone feel! Perhaps a better term would be “melt” or “soften” or “sink” to release the muscles. By actively using your brain to let the tension in your muscles go, during a stretch, you will achieve way more. Stretching is mindful. Bring your attention and focus to the muscle or region that is feeling tight in the stretch. Then focus on melting, softening, sinking, releasing that place so your brain is learning to switch things off. Pause and breath and do it again. If you apply too much force or go too far into a stretch it makes it much harder to actively release your muscles. Remember coax and encourage!
6. Be PATIENT
Muscles take a little time to melt away, let go and lengthen. To get good changes in the muscle fibre you need to hold your stretches for at least 30seconds. SO be patient with them, breathe, relax to release, sink a little further into the stretch to meet the next barrier of resistance then repeat the cycle. IF you go too far your muscles will be fighting against you not releasing.
7. DO NOT PUSH into PAIN
Your stretches should never be painful. Yes they may feel tight and restricted but not painful. Modifications can be made to any stretch to make it more effective for any individual. What does your body do when you are in pain? It tightens up. You try to protect things. Will tightening your muscles help you stretch them?…..NO! Back away from pain. Take the stretch to the first point of resistance and pause, listen and tune in to your body and wait for the magic to happen! If you have any concerns or stretching is making things more sore, get advice from a Physio.
8. TECHNIQUE is KEY
Each stretch is designed to target different muscle groups. Having advice on this is super important to get the best from your body. The range you go to in the stretch is unique to you and should not be compared to others. In a desperate bid to appear to be stretching further our body will sneakily shift and twist to make you feel you are doing it better. PLEASE STOP! Listen to your body again. Stop at the first point of resistance or tightness in any muscle. Notice the rest of your body. You should still have release and relaxation in other areas and pay attention to your breath. There are so many helpful resources out there to guide you from books to You Tube. Mirrors are the best thing to use to monitor what you are doing but there is no substitute for hands on guidance. That is why stretches in any class should be monitored and tweaked by the teacher.
9. KEEP DOING IT!
Just having a token stretch one day and not revisiting it for months will give you little gain. Even if it is twice a week. You will notice changes within a couple of weeks. It will feel good and the results will make you want to do it more!
10. LESS is MORE on the effort front
Please don’t try so hard. We love it when you are keen but when you try super hard you tend to switch more muscles on. Stretching will be way more effective if you give a little each time. It requires some time. But like anything, in order for your brain to learn and let go and muscles to lengthen you need to practice. If you don’t find things are changing then perhaps it is then time to give us a call and see how we can help you.
I decided in January that I needed stretch more! I was feeling tighter in my shoulders and hips and knew it was time 2 years after the birth of my little one to actually spend a little time looking after myself. Guess what, I felt immediately better after each session I did. Within 2 weeks the changes were lasting and my body was moving distinctly better and now 4 weeks in I don’t want to stop. My body feels better than it has in years and I have only made this ONE change.
So this week, your “One Thing” to do is to do some stretching! Ask for some advice if you need to but stick with it. Even if it is only for 20minutes a couple of times a week. Take it easy and go gently, listen to your body and see what happens.
Finally, please let us know how you are getting on with it and are feeling, we’d love to know! If any of you would be interested in a workshop on stretching some time please let us know as it would a great way to help you with this. Enjoy everyone!