Written By KIMf of Keep It Moving Fitness:
The majority of people who begin an exercise program do it to either burn fat, improve cardiovascular endurance or to build muscle. In order to accomplish these things they focus some type of aerobic activity, such as running, walking, or swimming, and they add weight-training to improve strength. These techniques are most definitely important elements in any fitness program but a third element, Flexibility, is often times neglected.
Flexibility range varies from person to person depending on a person age, gender, body shape and activity level. Genetics also play a huge role in how flexible a person maybe because some people are just naturally more flexible than others without much effort. The older a person gets the less flexible a person tends to be. This is due to the natural wearing of bones and muscle tissue that occur during the aging process as well as inactivity. Fortunately, with regular training anyone can improve their flexibility which will help reduce risk of injury during exercise, improves posture, releases muscle tension and soreness, increases physical and mental relaxation, and allows more freedom during movements.
Stretch to Improve Your Workout
Before you start stretching, it is important that you take 5-10 minutes to warm up. You NEVER want to stretch cold muscles. This will triple your chances of being injured. Think of your muscles as little rubber bands. If you try to stretch a cold rubber band, it will pop but if you warm it up it becomes more elastic and can stretch further. (Try it, really put a rubber band and the freezer. See what happens). When performing a stretch before and after your workout here are a few tips to assist:
- Make sure to focus on the breath and attempt to sync it with every movement. Take a deep breath and slowly exhale as you stretch the muscle to the point of tension. Hold your stretch for at least 30 seconds, take another deep breath and repeat the stretch a few more times.
- Make sure you never bounce a stretch, this will cause injury and that is the last thing you want before you start an exercise.
- If you have experienced a strain or a tear in a muscle ligament, do not stretch it.
- If a stretch is painful, ease up on it. Flexibility will improve with time and regular practice.
- Make sure you never hold your breath while stretching. Remember the only time you should hold your breath in any part of exercise is under water swimming.
Making Time For Stretching When There Is No Time
Lack of time might be the number one reason people neglect stretching while working out. People are running late and jump right into the work out or they are just so exhausted after that they want to escape as quickly as possible at the end of the work out.
Researchers suggest that at least 30 minutes, three times per week, should be spent on flexibility training and if that is impossible and attempt to do any kind of stretching is better than none at all, especially after cardio focused programs.
Try some of these stretching ideas when time is tight:
- Make stretching your entire workout: Switch one of your workout days to a Yoga or Pilates class or video. This will combine your fitness and stretching into one. Yoga and Pilates are amazing was to increase flexibility.
- Stretch to wake up: In the morning do a few full body stretches to wake you up.
- Try doing your stretches while soaking in the bathtub or after a shower. Remember what I said about warm muscles above. This water can improve your stretch.