Stretch – it will feel good!
Sandy Turner, RKin, Minto-Mapleton FHT
Many of us have a hard time fitting in exercise into our daily routine even though we know the importance of it. For those of us that do regular exercise, many will often leave out stretching exercises. So why is stretching off the radar? For most of us it is because we think we don’t have the time. Or perhaps, we think we are moving well.
Most of us understand that stretching will help our range of motion and can reduce our risk of injury…but there are many other benefits, with the most important being it feels GOOD! Stretching will also improve our ability to be active and overall move better. It can increase blood flow to the muscle and help our muscles work more effectively. It will help to reduce any aches we may feel after a workout or after activity that you haven’t done in a while. Stretching can also help with our posture and keep our bodies in better alignment.
The most important things to know about stretching is when and how to do it properly and effectively. While we can’t necessarily stretch too often, we can overstretch a muscle when we are doing it incorrectly. Let’s review when we should stretch. Stretching is meant to reward muscles for the work we have put them through. Often this would be after a workout or bout of exercise. But it should also include after a long day of spring cleaning, for example, or after doing an activity we haven’t done in a while, or after noting a feeling of heaviness or tiredness in our legs. This is our body’s way of saying “we need stretched”. Stretching can also be done before activity, but you may hurt yourself if you are trying to stretch a cold muscle. When using stretching as part of a warm up, be sure to prepare your muscles first with some light walking or marching on the spot.
Next, let’s focus on how stretching should be done. Stretching should always be balanced…what we do for one side of the body, we should do for the other. We may only notice tightness on one side, but it is still important to stretch both our arms or legs, for instance. We may have been compensating for one side and over using the other side. Sometimes muscle tightness isn’t felt until you stretch the muscle to find out.
Don’t forget about referred pain that may occur from muscle soreness. Be sure to concentrate on the muscles above and below the area of concern. For example, if the knee is tight or stiff, be sure to include the front and back of the thigh and the calf muscles when stretching. If it’s the shoulder, then add neck and arm stretches as well.
Avoid bouncing when stretching. Bouncing can injure your muscle and actually cause more muscle tightness. Focus on holding your stretch. Remember to breath, as this will encourage your body to relax and ease tension in the muscles. Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds. In problem areas, you may need to hold for up to 60 seconds.
Gentle tension is what you want to feel when stretching, never pain. If it hurts, you’ve pushed too far. Back off to the point where you don’t feel any pain, then hold the stretch. The tension release in muscles can often be noticed even after a single stretch of a muscle. You may notice that it becomes easier to move into the stretch or that you are able to lean into the stretch a bit more with the second stretch of the same muscle. This is a result of the first stretch releasing some of the tension. This sensation may not last too long if your muscles have been tight for some time, however. Trust your body, if it felt better after stretching, then focus on including stretching in as a daily or at least a few times a week to benefit. You could even consider stretching two to three times a day for up to two weeks initially to help keep the muscles feeling good and ready to move.
Be consistent. If the stretching helped you to feel better, then you need to include this regularly to keep feeling better. Your body will often ‘tell’ you when you need to stretch. When it does…stretch! A good rule of thumb is stretch after exercise or when you notice your ability to move isn’t as good as it should be. A five-to-10-minute stretching routine done two to three times a week can be all it takes to keep you moving and grooving!
While you can stretch anytime, anywhere…proper technique is the key to do more good than harm! For more information about any of the free services offered by the Upper Grand Family Health Team, visit our website at www. https://uppergrandfht.org/ or call our office at 519-843-3947. Like us on Facebook (Upper Grand Family Health Team) or follow us on Instagram @uppergrandfht for healthy living tips and information on upcoming programs and events in the area!