Stiffness, injury, pulled muscles and discomfort are aspects of exercising that can be alleviated by regular stretching; it's something we all forget about, or choose not to do.
In elementary and high school, stretching was the first thing we did before a physical education class. Personally, I don't do it enough, so this is my personal , and public reminder to get down on the ground, and roll out the muscles.
Stretching is very important because if it's done incorrectly, an injury or pinched nerve can follow. If you hold a stretch for 10 seconds and don't actually feel a muscle stretching, you're more focused on the position than the action. Some stretch before exercising, and others do it after. My preference includes warming up with a five minute jog or walk, and then stretch to warm up the muscles for stretching. Muscles stretch when you lift weights or perform body weight exercises, and if they're acted on cold, there's room for injury or discomfort.
For legs: Stand up and grab your ankle with knee bent to stretch the quadriceps (muscle from hip area to knee). You can do this on the floor too. For the rest of the lower body, sit down and stretch your legs out to each side, or one at a time, and hinge forward to touch each foot. To stretch the calf, walk up to a wall or solid structure and place heel on the ground and rest of foot at an angle on the wall and lean into it.
Upper body: Roll your neck in circles both ways. Roll shoulders forward and backwards. Bring arm across the front of your body, hold right under the elbow and look the other way to further stretch elbows. To stretch triceps (back of biceps), raise your arm straight up and bend at the elbow behind the head. Lightly press to the left when stretching the right arm, and vice versa. You can stretch your back various ways, but I like to hang by upper body down like a rag doll and then move my lower body side-to-side. For advanced, stretches, practice yoga.
For all stretches, hold for five to 10 seconds. Never bounce or force a motion. Remember to steadily breathe during each stretch.
The benefits of stretching, in the long run, are worth it. Sure it adds about five minutes onto your workout each time, but if you dedicate 20 minutes to a full body stretch once a week in front of the television, a little effort goes a long way. Overall, muscle tension is reduced, you're more mobile with a better range of motion in the joint, muscle coordination is better, blood flow to body parts increases and energy levels are better, according to Sparkpeople. I know that if it's been a while since I practiced yoga, the back of my neck tenses up and my body gets achy a lot easier.
Want to get deeper into muscle tissues? Snag a foam roller, or make your own by padding up a six inch, two foot PVC pipe. It's just a cylinder that you roll your body on and work out the tensions in a muscle. You really want to breathe through these motions because the goal is to go back and forth over the muscle that's tense to loosen it up.
Foam rollers are traditionally used by runners, but work for any athlete. Sometimes I do it in the kitchen with my friends standing around talking or in front of the television. Same with stretching, it can be done before or after a workout. Foam rolling can decrease recovery time, the chance of an injury, which leads to more training sessions per week and quicker results for the everyday gym rat. According to Muscle and Fitness, calves are the first thing to roll out because of everyday activities that negatively affect them. Lay on the ground, put the roller under your calf, raise your hips and with pressure, roll slowly back and forth.
The second best is the quadriceps, in which you lay on your stomach, place the roller underneath you on the thigh, lift your upper body up and go forward and backward with the massaged leg dead weight. Try to rotate to the inside and outside of the thigh to get the abductor and adductors. Follow this procedure for most other muscles.
Stay well, and mobile.
—Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.