In a world where sitting has become the norm, our bodies are becoming excessively tight. This lack of mobility has caused people to develop back and neck pain at alarming rates. Although we can thank mom and dad for much of our range of motion due to genetics, there are still some things we can do to improve ourselves. Think of your body as one big muscle rather than many individual muscles. Pain in your big toe can cause you to change your gait, which can lead to knee pain, which can tighten the hamstrings and pull on the lower back, which can then move into your thoracic spine area and eventually to your neck. We must think of stretching all the muscles, not just the ones that are tight. Keep reading to find your perfect stretch!
All stretching should be done while the muscles are warm. You can warm up in a variety of ways — walking, jogging, biking, jumping rope, etc. Be sure your muscles are warm before you begin to stretch to avoid injury. There are several different types of stretching. Each type is specific to the goal you wish to accomplish.
Here are some of my favorite stretches to help you get started:
Functional range conditioning (FRC)
This type of stretching is relatively new on the scene. Dr. Andreo Spina is the foremost expert. He travels around the world educating health and fitness professionals. This type of stretching combines the dynamic and static methods. Stretches are performed while moving the joints through a broad range of motion rather than just holding a pose. This has shown to improve mobility, joint strength and body control. Several professional sports teams have implemented this method and have had amazing results.
Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF)
This type of stretching involves a partner to help facilitate the stretch. It should be performed with caution because it involves pushing the body beyond a comfortable range of motion. This form has the person being stretched contract and then relax the muscle. This releases the inhibitory response that a muscle being stretched has, which allows for a deeper stretch. A good example of this is when one person lies flat on their back with one leg extended and elevated. The person who is facilitating the stretch will then apply pressure to the extended leg pushing it back toward the head of the person lying down.
This is the type people are the most familiar with. It involves slow constant stretches that last about 30 seconds. It doesn’t elicit much risk and can be done just about anywhere. Most yoga poses would fit in to this category. Static stretching should be performed post exercise. A good example is when you reach down toward your toes and hold the pose. This stretch will loosen your back and hamstrings.
Dynamic stretching is typically done before you exercise. It involves functional movements that prepare you for the exercise you are about to perform. For example, if you are about to run, you should work through movements that imitate running. If you are about to golf, you should work through movements that would mimic a golf swing. Doing this reduces the likelihood of injury and maximizes your performance.
Although stretching can be uncomfortable, I find it easier to get myself to stretch than to work out. The results are slow, so be sure to be patient and persistent when beginning a stretching program. Remember to avoid pushing your body beyond its limits. Stretches should be performed to the point of mild discomfort. I have made it a ritual to stretch while watching my favorite shows at night. I usually spend about 20 minutes stretching every evening before bed.
Remember, there are many different stretches in each category; these are just examples of some of the stretches to try.