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To stretch or not to stretch
Safely improving flexibility

07/17/14
By Joel Bergeron



 What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Most of us enjoy reaching out our arms and legs for a refreshing stretch. It feels good, and once we’re on our feet, we forget we even did it.  

On the other end of things, think about how you feel at the end of a long work day, perhaps sitting at an office desk toiling away behind your computer screen. Tension in the shoulders?  Sore lower back? Total body fatigue? All of the above?
When we feel flexible, there’s less resting tension in our body and muscles, and it’s relaxing.  Less tension means our muscles work less and have better stamina, and it’s easier to stay focused throughout the day and be productive.  
So how do we safely increase flexibility? Here are five easy ways to loosen up your muscles and reap the benefits of a relaxed body:
 
1.  Start with consistency. Just like brushing your teeth, you have to stretch regularly to maintain and improve your flexibility. Aim to set aside 5 to 10 minutes daily and make it a routine.  
2.  Do it right. Stretching is as simple as flexing or extending a joint as far as it will go until you feel slight tension, holding the position until the tension reduces, then moving the joint a slight bit further and repeating the process. You should never feel pain when you stretch, and you should not see your muscles shaking or quivering. Hold the stretch, don’t ‘bounce’ into the motion.  Bouncing actually increases your chances of having an injury. A great illustrated resource is Bob Anderson’s book Stretching.
3.  Target large muscle groups. Your thighs, back of legs (hamstrings), calves, lower back, neck and hip flexors all become tensioned normally each day.   
4.  Hold … for 30 seconds! When you stretch, hold each position for at least a half minute, or even better, a full minute. Research indicates that static stretching for less than 30 seconds has very little lasting effect.
5.  Stretch when warm and limber, not before. The best time to improve range of motion is after you have been physically active (such as at the end of the day or after a workout).  Stretching cold muscles has been shown to decrease sensitivity of your nervous system and in fact increase the likelihood of a strained or pulled muscle.
 
If you really want to see how good being loose and limber feels, give this a try. Turn your head to the left as far as you can until you feel a stretch on your right side. Hold the position for 20 seconds, and then turn to the left a slight bit more. When the tension drops, turn a little further and repeat the process. Now look to your right as far as you can, then go back to your left.  See and feel a big difference? You should be shaking your head that you’ve waited this long to start stretching.

Do you have a question about health and fitness that you’d like answered in The Healthy Hippo? Email Joel Bergeron at info@nlpstrength.com. Joel is a former NCAA D1 and professional sports coach and holds a master’s degree in sport science. Be sure to check with your doctor before changing your eating habits or embarking on a new exercise program. 
 
As seen in the July 17, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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