Exercise of the month of June: Flexibility | Lifestyles


Blooming flowers, pollen-soaked porches, and those buzzing bees we all secretly freak out about seeing.

There is such beauty in nature in full bloom – waking up from cold and dead winter. Summer also brings great weather outside!

As we increase our activity and get out there is an important component of physical training that we need to address.

In previous articles, we have discussed two fairly well-known aspects of fitness: cardiorespiratory training and resistance training. However, there’s a third often-overlooked aspect to consider when navigating your health: flexibility training. It’s a must for people of all ages (except babies, they have it all!).

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) defines flexibility as “the ability to move through a joint’s range of motion.” You may think no one has ever told you about flexibility in the gym.

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Stretching is precisely what I mean when I say flexibility training. I can hear your sighs, but you know I’m right.

Stretching is good for you. It can help reduce joint pain, protect against injury, allow your body to move to its full potential, and make daily activities easier. Harvard Health published an article on stretching that states, “Without it, muscles shorten and become tight. Then, when you call on the muscles for an activity, they are weak and unable to fully extend.

Have you ever found a really old rubber band? When you try to stretch it – SNAP! It breaks. Now imagine trying to use a muscle that hasn’t been stretched. Stretching is important. There are several different types of stretches, but today we are going to focus our attention on static stretches.

Static stretching is defined by the ACSM as “slowly stretching a group of muscles/tendons and holding the position for a period of time (that’s to say, 10-30 seconds). Static stretches can be active or passive.

Before going any further, there is one very important rule about stretching: you must warm up. This is not a suggestion. It is a requirement. You cannot and should not stretch a cold muscle.

You can do different things to warm up: walk, dance, jump rope, do jumping jacks, do arm circles, ride a stationary bike or use an elliptical machine. Warm up these muscles for 5-10 minutes before beginning your stretching routine.

After completing the warm-up, you can start stretching.

The ACSM states, “Active static stretching involves maintaining the stretched position using agonist muscle strength, as is common in many forms of yoga.” An example of active static stretching would be tilting your head to one side to stretch your neck muscles.

Passive static stretching is defined by the ACSM as “taking a position while holding a limb or other body part with or without the aid of a partner or device (such as elastic bands or a bar of dance)”.

An example of a passive static stretch would be lying flat on the floor, tying a belt or strap around your foot with the other end in your hand, and bringing your right leg up with your right knee up you feel a stretch in the back part of your upper leg (also known as a hamstring stretch).

Now let’s discuss how to stretch. This is an important aspect of your stretching program.

When stretching, the goal is not to get into the position and feel unbearable pain. You’re pushing the muscle too far before it’s ready if the stretch is painful.

The goal when doing a specific stretch is to go until you feel tension or a pulling sensation in that muscle.

Go back to our hamstring stretch example in the last paragraph. If you raise your leg to form a 90 degree angle and you think you’re going to need a hospital, you’ve gone too far. Try to bring your leg back towards the ground until you feel a slight pull in the back part of your leg. Remember rule number one is to warm up before stretching. Rule number two is to stretch to the point of tension, not agony. Now, how do we make stretching part of our routine?

The ACSM recommends performing a stretching routine at least 2-3 days a week, with daily stretches being the most effective.

Hold the stretch for 10-60 seconds and stretch each of the major muscle-tendon units. The ACSM stated, “In older adults, stretches of 30 to 60 seconds may result in greater flexibility gains than stretches of shorter duration.” It would be best to do your stretches after finishing your workout for the day, when your muscles are warmed up.

Another great way to get into a stretching routine is to get the whole family involved. Have dinner together, take a short walk or have a mini dance party and complete a beginner stretching video online.

YouTube is filled with videos to get you started on a stretching routine. Be sure to choose a video appropriate to your level of experience. If you’re new to stretching, don’t try an intermediate or advanced stretching video. We want it to benefit you and not hurt you. Move on to intermediate videos and stretching routines.

You can also consider where you feel tense or stiff and get into the habit of stretching those areas. As you see improvement in these problem areas, move on to other areas or focus on keeping each muscle happy and healthy.

Movement is a lotion! We are not made to sit and tense up. If you’re worried about balance issues or protecting your joints, try researching seated stretching routines. Many stretches can be done while seated.

If you have any questions, email me at [email protected] And be sure to check out YouTube for free stretching routines to add to your health tool belt.

Kayla Thompson is a diabetes care coordinator at HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence and a board-certified exercise physiologist with the American College of Sports Medicine. She holds a Master of Science in Clinical Exercise Science.

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