The Advantages of Stretching, and How to Do It
By Dr. Molly Casey
Stretching can feel like a blessing and a curse. If you’re anything like me, more often than not it has felt like a curse, not so much because it doesn’t always feel great, but rather because stretching is the part of a full proper workout that feels the most difficult for me to complete. It’s not a challenging thing to actually do, you just have to actually do it though.
There are a lot of differing opinions on the need and benefit for stretching. When looking at stretching routines, I like to look at what I know to be true.
Increased circulation occurs when muscles are relaxed and functioning at their best. Arteries, veins, nerves and other structures lie in and run through the muscles of the body. When the muscles are constricted and chronically tight, the circulation of fluid or communication (neural impulses) can be limited. Regular stretching to decrease muscle tension increases circulation.
Improved mechanical efficiency occurs when your machine, or body, is functioning as intended. Muscles originate and attach from specific areas of certain bones and run across joints, facilitating motion and movement throughout the body. Muscles are more efficient in the mechanics of movement when they are properly flexible, pliable and adaptable to their specific job. Increasing tension limits its mechanical efficiency.
Improved adaptability to stress occurs with stretching because muscles that are chronically tense are less able to adapt to the daily stress of life and protection from any potential injuries. Stretching decreases tension, thus increasing adaptability.
Improved posture, in part, comes with properly lengthened, flexible and functioning muscles. While not the only component, chronically tight muscles impede proper posture. Stretch regularly to assist in proper muscle function and promote proper posture.
Improved range of motion and decreased stiffness is another benefit of stretching. Shortened, chronically tight muscles are stiff and don’t move as well as intended. Maintaining optimal range of motion is imperative for optimal joint health and functional movement for as long as possible for your body and life.
Take A Broader Approach to Stretching
I look at three exercises for the upper body and three for the lower body and try to work them in as frequently as possible throughout the day, minimally one time daily.
Three Upper Body Stretches
The doorway stretch provides an easy and broad opening of the chest. Go to a doorway and place your hand and elbow of one arm flat against the frame of the door. There are two variations here, but doing both are highly recommended because it stretches two different muscles of the chest, pectoralis major and minor. To stretch pec major -- the main muscles of the chest -- keep your elbow at a 90-degree angle and in line with mid-chest level. To stretch pec minor you simply raise your elbow up above mid-chest level so the shoulder is a little higher and that small muscle is targeted more. Targeting either muscles, the motion from here is the same. You simply take a few steps into the doorway and lean in. You should feel the stretch in your chest; exactly where you feel the stretch will depend on your elbow placement. Breathe deeply and relax. Hold until you feel a lightening or experience a lengthening; usually it is between 30 to 90 seconds, sometimes it can take as long as 120 seconds. Release and repeat on the other side. You can check out this video for a quick tutorial.
Upward facing dog is elemental. Many folks forget to stretch and open up those chest and abdominal muscles, as well as lengthen the spine. Most are closed down with some level of poor posture these days which, even in small amounts for long periods of time, takes a toll. So one of my favorite all-time front stretches is known as upward facing dog. Lie face down on the floor, put your hands beside your lower rib cage and press through your hands, stretching and opening up your upper body. Lean your head back, tip your chin to the sky and breathe deeply. Hold in that extension for 30 to 120 seconds. Lower slowly and rest for 20 seconds and repeat three times.
Standing tricep stretches can easily be done anywhere. Raise your arm as high as you can, bend your elbow and point your fingertips down toward your shoulder or mid back. Place your other hand on the bent elbow and attempt to drive the fingers of the stretched arm down into the mid back area. You should feel the stretch in the back of your arm. Hold for 30 to 120 seconds until you feel a bit of a lightening or release. Repeat other side. You can check out this image right here.
Three Lower Body Stretches
The stairwell calf stretch is as simple as it gets. On stairs, place the ball of one foot on the edge of the stair allowing the heel to hang off the back, unsupported. Hold on to a wall or railing for balance and then drop your weight through the heel of the foot hanging off the stairwell. You’ll feel a stretch at the back of the leg in the calf area. Hold for 30-120 seconds and bring the heel up. Repeat on the other side. This can be done while talking to your family at your house, in the stairwell at work before or after lunch, or a multitude of other times and places. It is totally doable and with great ease.
Hamstring stretches are easiest done on the floor with legs in a V-shape. Choose one side to go to first, repeat in the middle and on the other side. Extend your arms out, reach forward, bringing your hands toward your feet by bending at the waist as far as possible. Keep your knees straight and on the floor. Be sure to not simply bend over from your upper back. Actually flex forward from the waist. Breathe deeply. Hold for 30-120 seconds until you feel a lightening or lengthening. Relax back to starting position.
Shooting straight here, the psoas stretches are invaluable and at the same time can be very tough, mostly because it’s a deep muscle that is awkward and not easy to get to. Try this go-to to address these important muscles. Take a half kneeling stance, meaning one knee (right) on the ground the other knee bent at a right angle with the foot out in front of your body. Tuck your tailbone under, keep your spine straight, and shift your hips forward in toward the left knee. You should feel a pull in your right side directly over the front of your hip bone because that is where the psoas tendon runs over. Hold 30-120 seconds. You’ll likely feel a lightening or a release. You may need to be acutely present to feel this stretch, but that’s OK. Do this daily as most have a chronically tightened psoas because of prolonged sitting.
The bottom line is stretching is beneficial in more ways than one. People usually pay little attention to it, and if they do, it’s not with regularity. Do yourself a favor: commit to regular stretching routines. Work those routines into your daily life whether at home or the office. Ask your doctor at The Joint Chiropractic for tips or comments on specialized stretches for you.These here will get you off to a great start.
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