Stretch

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Dare you to... STRETCH!  I don't just mean after a workout, and I definitely don't mean before a workout (before a workout, do dynamic stretching!).  Today, I'm talking about stretching for stretching's sake, stretching on a recovery day, stretching to feel good!

Last week, I neglected my sleep in favor of broadway shows and visiting family.  Undoubtedly connected, this week, I got hit with something that left me with a cold, a very sore throat, and swollen lymph nodes.  I wanted to rest and recover before it got worse, not stress my body even more.  Instead of working out, I turned to stretching.  I stretched to get my blood flowing.  I did a bit of a more intense yoga mid-week to wake up my muscles.  I stretched to feel good. And it did feel good!

Image courtesy of Ambro / freedigitalphotos.net

Even when I'm at my healthiest, I'm always amazed at how a few minutes of simple stretching can really turn my day around.   I aim for at least 5 minutes of focused stretching each day, but also sneak them in during dull moments in the day.  Calf stretches are super easy to inconspicuously do out and about, while the full-body routines I do at home.  Stretching provides me with both short term benefits (feeling awesome) and long-term benefits (my flexibility and posture both attest!).

If I did it, then so can you!  Stretch when you wake up.  Stretch before bed.  Stretch when you have a few moments in your day!  Yes, stretching is great for muscle recovery, but even if you're a sedentary person, adding a lot of stretching to your week can help improve your strength and endurance.

Most of us may already know that stretching increases flexibility, but did you know that stretching can contribute to your wellness in other ways?

Image courtesy of stockimages / freedigitalphotos.net
Benefits of Stretching:
  • increased circulation
  • reduced muscle soreness and tension 
  • stress relief
  • mental and physical relaxation
  • reduced severity of period cramps in women
  • better posture 
  • enhanced coordination 
And more!  The only way to learn what stretching has to offer is to try it for yourself.

Aside from post-workout, my favorite times to stretch are in the morning and right before bed.  I find that in the morning, a few sun salutations (borrowed from yoga) really get my blood flowing, awakening my body and mind.  It sounds cheesy, but it really feels like I'm greeting the day!

At night, I'll often just stretch out as I feel fit to, loosening up and releasing any strains from the day.


Some Stretching Tips:
  • Start by warming up a bit with light movement.  Even if you're not working out, you may want to get the muscles warm before you go about stretching them.
  • Hold each stretch for 15-30 seconds, or up to a minute if a muscle is particularly in need.
  • Don't bounce your stretch; this can cause small muscle tears.  You should ease into it, perhaps pulling back before stretching again to see greater flexibility, but each stretch should still be held rather than bounced. 
  • Breathe; don't hold your breath!  Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth.
  • Do one stretch at a time.  Don't multitask; take this time to relax your mind. 
  • Stretch both sides!  Don't sell one side short. 
  • Don't stretch so that you feel pain.  You should feel tension, but it should not be painful. 
  • Image courtesy of imagerymajestic
     / freedigitalphotos.net
  • Be consistent.  Sure, it may take you a while to get into the habit, but if you want to experience the benefits listed above, don't just stretch once or twice a week.  Stretch every day!  

Getting Started:

Stretching was not always part of my daily routine, but now it's second nature.  I got started by using the Lift App to adjust to my new habit. Now, I no longer need the reminder!  Use Lift, or simply set an alarm on your phone for 5 minutes after you wake up or 10 min before bed to remind you it's time to stretch!

Another way for beginners to get into the habit is to begin with distraction.  Incorporate stretching into existing sedentary parts of your day, like watching TV or listening to podcasts.

As for specific stretches, I learned most of my stretches from yoga (like this AM and PM DVD) and other group fitness classes.  I just kind of go with the flow and do what feels right to me.  I like to twist my torso (alleviates any stomach upset), stretch my legs (don't bend from your back; hinge from your hips!), and reach to the sky and into a backbend.

A great way to start in the mornings is by doing sun salutations; the movement of the vinyasa make it interesting and really get the blood flowing!  This video demonstrates for beginners:


At night, I do more static stretches, holding each for 20-30 seconds while I breathe and relax for bed.

Some FitFluential Ambassadors demonstrate other stretches!  Click below to watch their videos:

The team at Greatist also has great tips for stretching:

Dare you to start this weekend so you're ready to build it into your routine by Monday!

Do YOU stretch?  If so, when?  How?  What benefits have you noticed?

Resources
http://web.mit.edu/tkd/stretch/stretching_5.html
http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/fitness/in-depth/stretching/art-20047931
http://web.mit.edu/tkd/stretch/stretching_3.html
http://ministryhealth.org/MinistryHealth/HealthConnection/HealthConnectionSpring2009/Thisspringstretchdontstrain.nws
http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/new-ideas-on-proper-stretching-techniques
http://greatist.com
http://www.nbcnews.com/id/21489011/ns/health-fitness/t/stretching-may-offer-extended-benefits/#.UyDmV1FdW6w

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