ShFIT Talk #22 - Stretching & Flexibility in Fitness
So often when we think about fitness and getting in shape our mind goes right to weight lifting or cardio. All about hitting the gym, lifting heavy things and putting them down again, drinking protein shakes and wearing cool looking workout gear, right.
Admittedly all that is super awesome, but one of the most important aspects of any fitness journey is stretching and flexibility. Stretching works wonders for your body and muscles. It helps to keep your muscles all lush and flexible. We need that flexibility to maintain a full range of motion in our joints. If we don’t have that range of motion our muscles start to shorten and become weak and tight. If we are looking to get those gains or tone up, we need our muscles to be strong and healthy. Weak muscles lead to joint pain, strains and muscle damage and who wants or needs that in their life?
We often don’t even think about it, being stagnant and not stretching, but something as simple as sitting at a desk all day staring at a computer screen can cause the muscles in your legs and back to tighten. Think about it, how often do you get to around 330 in the afternoon and your back just starts to ache but you haven't really done anything all day, or you get up to go get a cup of tea, or a glass of water and your legs are stiff. It starts off easy enough to shake off, we are young, in our 20s we just burn right through it right, but as we hit our 30, 40, 50s we reeeelllllly start to notice it. That is why it is recommended for people who sit all day to get up every 30 mins to move, AKA stretch. Doesn’t have to be for long, just a couple of min, but studies have shown that something as simple as that cannot only help to keep your muscles healthy but also reduce heart disease, risk of cancer, cancer-related deaths and more.
As I mentioned early, those weak and tight muscles can lead to injuries because they are not strong enough to support your joints, which can lead to even worse….joint injury.
So besides getting up from your desk regularly to keep from going stiff and maybe a little crazy, daily stretching doesn’t have to be a chore. You really have to just take the time to target some big boys a few times a week, and your body will thank you. You want to make sure you target at least your lower half, the part that keeps you balanced and from falling over should be your priority, your calves, hammies, hips and quads. Then if you are feeling feisty you can always add in your lower back, shoulders and neck, which will feel amazing.
Quick note, if you have any chronic conditions like Parkinson's disease or arthritis, it is best to check with your doctor first before starting a stretching regimen. There are lots of ways to stretch, you can stretch at home in the morning, with a personal trainer, sign up for yoga or pilates or more.
Once you get all flexibility, you reduce your risk of injury plus it helps with that post workout soreness. Stretching after a killer workout helps to loosen and lessen the tightening effect that causes that next day (or 2 day later) soreness. When you spend all that time at the gym, you don’t want to be so sore that you spend the next week questioning why you even though getting in shape, or trying to hit that new PR was a good idea in the first place. You want to be able to recover and go back to the gym without feeling like death.
Taking the time to stretch, especially your back and shoulders helps with improving your posture. We spend so much time as it is hunched over a keyboard at a desk or all hunched over looking down at our phones that so many of us start to develop what has become coined as “tech neck”. But who wants to be like The Hunchback of Notre Dame at 35? Stretching helps to keep your body in alignment while reducing stress. Well-stretched muscles hold less tension, and less tension can help you feel less stressed.
Not only is it good to stretch after a workout to help reduce that soreness, but stretching BEFORE a workout is just as important. It gives your muscles a heads up so that they aren’t caught off guard and cold. Because what...cold muscles are tight muscles and tight muscles and lead to injury. Pre workout stretching allows your body to withstand the impact of the activity you choose better so you can crush it even better.
Now that we know a little more about stretching and some of the benefits let's take a second to talk about the types. Yes, types. There are multiple types, not all stretching is holding a pose and letting your mind wander while you think about all the things on your to-do list. There is static and dynamic stretching.
Static Stretching, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), is the process of passively taking a muscle to the point of tension and holding the stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds. Think Yoga holds.
Static can be subdivided into either passive or active. Active is when Added force is applied by the individual for greater intensity. Passive is when Added force is applied by an external force (e.g., partner or assistive device) to increase intensity.
In South Korea, Pilates is really big. You see the Pilates trapeze beds and studies all over the place. Passive Static Stretching!
Dynamic Stretching, again according to NASM, uses the full production of a muscle and the body’s momentum to take a joint through a full range of available motion. Think like Prisoner Squats, Jumping Jacks, Slow Walking Lunge with Rotation. ballistic stretching is used for athletic drills and utilizes repeated bouncing movement to stretch the targeted muscle group. We do a lot of this in our warm-ups in jiu-jitsu. I miss jiu-jitsu, seriously, the military let us go back for a whole whopping 4 days before the restrictions slammed back into place around Korea. Even though S. Korea is lifting their restrictions in like a week, you KNOW the military is gonna have us like this until freaking Thanksgiving or something. I should just hand my purple belt back and go dig out my white belt again. Sigh. Anywho. Ballistic Stretching, Yes. So the bounding movements usually trigger the stretch reflex and can cause increased risk for injury, so it is important to start them at a low-velocity to high-velocity and preceded by static stretching.
Isometric stretching is when you hold the stretch for only two seconds at a time and each time you repeat it you pull (or push) the stretch just a little bit deeper.
PNF stretching is a bit more of an advanced form of flexibility training, which involves both the stretching and contracting of the muscle group being targeted.
SMR is just using one of those evil foam rollers or something similar to produce a myofascial release relieves tension and improves flexibility in the fascia and underlying muscle. Just moving the foam roller over a 2-5 in area for 30 to 60 seconds while you die inside should do the trick. Personally I want to punch anyone who comes near me when I have to do my IT Bands and Calves, but I’m cool with most of the other ones.
Use dynamic stretches before exercise to prepare your muscles.
Use static stretches after exercise to reduce your risk for injury
If you are looking for some different types of stretching you can do at home, check out our YouTube Channel and try to add a bit of stretching into your daily routine.