“I know I should be stretching because I feel tight all over. But I just never do.”
This phrase, or some variation of it is what I hear most often from clients coming in to my Athletic Stretching (www.athleticstretching.com) practice. Almost everybody agrees that stretching helps them feel better, but for some reason, it’s rarely a priority for people. Why is this? Personally, I think it’s because most people don’t know when to stretch, how to stretch, or why stretching is even important.
by Brandon K. Cole
Questions like: Should I do it before my workout or after? Do I have to be warmed up before I stretch? On top of that, there are also a lot of opinions out there about “the best way” to stretch. Should I hold each stretch for a minute? How intense should it be?
Well, I’m here to answer some of these questions to clear things up and show you a series of super simple, but highly effective stretches you can do on your own that will have your hips, back, and neck feeling better than ever. These are the areas people complain about feeling stiff the most.
Here are a few key principles you should keep in mind every time you stretch to supercharge the benefits. You’ll come away feeling refreshed and restored.
- Keep a “long spine” posture while stretching. To get a sense of what this means, practice this visualization technique. Either sitting or standing, close your eyes (but not right now, just keep reading) and imagine a string attached to the very top of your head and running all the way down your spine. Now imagine that string is being pulled straight up towards the ceiling. This creates a balanced alignment of your head and spine, which makes the stretching much more effective.
- Move fluidly into and out of your stretch. Most people know about static stretching, which is the kind where you get into a stretch position and hold for 30 or more seconds. So that’s what most people do. This method is outdated though, and not very useful for most people to be honest. Stretching should help you move better when you’re done. The best way to do that is to MOVE while you’re stretching. This targets many more tissues (muscles, fascia, nerves, etc..) and feels a whole lot more comfortable. Plus, it’s a lot less boring and excruciating.
- Use deep, diaphragmatic breathing, as you move into the stretch position. This is a big one. Diaphragmatic breathing (taking a slow 2 second inhale through your nose, followed by a full 4 second exhale through your mouth) should accompany every stretch movement. Instead of counting reps or seconds for your stretching, count breaths. For example, 3-5 breaths in this position, then 3-5 breaths in the next position, and so on. This takes care of a big error most people do when stretching: holding their breath. When you hold your breath, you’re telling your brain to keep tension in your body. This is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish while stretching.
- Do it daily. Stretching can go a long way to improve how your body moves and feels. It can relieve chronic pain that’s bothered you for years. It can give you more energy throughout the day. And it can make pretty much any activity you do throughout the day feel easier, with less chance of tweaking your back or knee if you move wrong. The catch? You need to do it regularly.I equate it to eating healthy. You’re not going to get super fit by eating one salad a couple of times a week. Likewise, stretching once a week, or whenever you remember to isn’t going to make a huge difference in your body. You need to do it consistently, daily if possible, if you’re going to reap all the benefits. Set reminders on your phone, wear a reminder wrist band like the one I give out to clients. Do whatever it takes make sure you’re doing it every day. Your body will thank you.