Last week I taught you the differences between stretching styles, and who should be stretching. Now I’ll get into the more practical stuff and tell you what to do with your stretching program.
Like anything in life for that matters, you should have a purpose for your flexibility program. Are you stretching to improve flexibility? If you’re a gymnast then that makes complete sense. Of all the things static stretching purportedly won’t do (like help with your running or workout performance), it will make you more flexible when done consistently.
If you’re an athlete, you need an above average amount of flexibility, so you can help prevent injury in your sport. It may not prevent a sprained ankle, but it may help prevent repetitive strain injuries, which are often the causes of common aches and pains such as plantar fasciitis, IT band syndrome, and knee pain. Most of us don’t need extreme flexibility the way gymnasts or ballerinas do. We just need enough to squat, bend, twist, and reach with relative easy, and without pain. Some regular stretching, focusing on the tighter areas should do the trick.
How should you stretch?
Dynamic: If you’re using it as a warm up, then you should be focusing on taking your limbs and trunk through controlled ranges of motion. You’re not trying to increase your flexibility here, but rather ramp up the nervous system, elevate your heart rate, get circulation pumping to your limbs, and lubricate the joints. This is called dynamic stretching. Start slow and get progressively quicker with each rep, but make sure to always be under control. No wild, jerky movements, please.
Static: If you’re stretching after a workout, you’ll want to take it nice and slow. The purpose of these stretches is about restoring muscle balance, easing muscle tension, and calming the nervous system down. All you need is about 10 minutes to do this. It’s way better to do 10 minutes of this kind of stretching every day, rather than a much longer session randomly.Taking about 5-10 seconds, or 1-3 slow, deep breaths, during each stretch position is perfect.
Breathing: Yes, it’s very important!
I mentioned in part one that there’s probably something you’re not doing that when you do it, will make all the difference. And that one thing is timing your breath with your movements. If you focus on your breathing while stretching, you’ll be able to spend a lot less time stretching, while gaining way more benefits. What you may not know is that your breathing can directly affect your nervous system. Try taking 5 really slow, deep breaths. I’m talking about diaphragmatic breaths, all the way down in to your belly. Take about 3 seconds on the inhale, and 5 seconds on the exhale. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you’re breathing right, you should feel your tummy expand before your chest.
What happened after your 5 deep breaths? Do you feel a bit more relaxed? If so that’s because slow breathing emphasizes the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as your rest and digest system because it’s active when you’re relaxing or digesting food. Breathing this way can actually signal your brain and body to become more relaxed. And the effects are almost immediate. This can lower muscle tone (a good thing when you’re doing restorative stretching), and even leave you feeling more calm. Pretty cool, right?
Next we’ll go more in depth into restorative stretching, which ties into the inhaling and exhaling, and relaxing muscle tone as you easy into the positions. I’ll also have a cool video to share so you can actually see what this looks like.
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