Stretching 101

I was on the massage table when a young lady walked in…(heart skipped a beat)

“Do you stretch after your workout?”

“sometimes?” (most often, NO)

“Even if you said yes to me, I can tell you’re lying”

“Jonathan, you need to stretch every time when you finish you workout, ESPECIALLY when you’re putting your body through so much heavy weights”

“Yes Ma’am…”

She continued digging right into my calves as she worked through both my legs muscles to release tensions from weight training.

I was never a fan of stretching because by the time I am done with my workout, all I want is to jump in the shower, and get out of the gym. What benefits do I get from stretching? yah, i might feel a bit loosened, but I’m sure in time my body will recover anyway. So why bother?

It was only up until I begin to feel pain and tightness in my lower back, I started to include 5- 10 mins of stretching after my workout and reaped the benefits immediately. I feel better, the pain and tightness in my lower back’s gone.

So why do you need to stretch / start incorporating stretching to your workout?

  1. When you’re warming up for your workout, spend 5-10 minutes on stretching will help increase joint mobility, and blood flowing to the your muscles, which aids oxygen and nutrients exchange between cells. This will help optimize your workout so that you can lift heavier or exercise at a higher intensity.
  2. When you stretch, you prepare your body for better posture while you exercise. After a whole day sitting at your desk, we tend to round our shoulders, and hunch a little bit. If people start doing a shoulder press without stretching, often you’ll see most of them really arch their spine, or with a cable triceps pushdown, you see a lot of rounded shoulders, it’s how the body tries to compensate for lack of strength and bad technique.
  3. Muscles break down when you force them to grow through heavy lifting, and you know it from the soreness you feel the next day. White blood cells surround the torn muscle fibre, laying down new cells, and thats how you grow bigger muscles. If you think about it, stretching encourages the tear between muscle fiber which means more new muscle cells have to be built for recovery = happy days.
  4. Stretching increases flexibility. When you have better flexibility, you are able to exercise with full range of motion. It prevents unnecessary injuries and you will have better body coordination and balance which is very important as you get older.

How to start incorporating stretching into your workout routine?

  1. Start small, and gradually build it up. You don’t have to touch your toes straight away if you can’t. All you need to do is just gently let your body hang a little bit, allow your mind to connect with you body and it will tell you when it is ready to go further.
  2. Hold each stretch for 30 seconds. If you’re just holding it for 10 seconds, it doesn’t really count because it won’t make any significant difference in lengthening muscle fibre.
  3. Remember to breathe. When you breathe, this is where you start tapping into that mental power to have mind body connection which allows the natural flow of energy to unclog any blockages or tightness.
  4. Stop if it starts to hurt. If it is slight discomfort, it is a challenge to work through it and you’ll reap the benefits once the discomfort has passed. But if it starts to hurt, your body is telling you that you’re not ready to go that far just yet. Patients my friend.
  5. Remember to stretch both sides. You don’t want to be lop sided do you? if you look in the mirror you can tell there’s a difference with your posture, either one side is tighter, traps are higher (tight shoulders), you might even have weird facial expression.

If you need help with stretching, try approach some gym trainers and ask for help. Most trainers have basic understanding to different types of stretching and are very happy to give you a few pointers to help loosen you up.

“The Intensity of stretching should increase and rejuvenate from moment to moment.” – Guruji Bks Iyengar

Image: Stretch and TwistCobra

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