Flexibility training is probably the most commonly overlooked part of any fitness programme, possibly because the benefits of stretching are not felt as obviously as the benefits of CV or strength training. With CV training you can get quite tired, you breathe hard, you sweat and you can sense the calories burning – you really feel that you are doing something positive for your health. With strength training it feels good to flex your muscles and move the weights to tone different areas, and the glow of a well-worked body part reassures you that you are making good progress with your fitness. Stretching is often viewed differently. It is seen as the area of fitness that you should pay attention to because you read somewhere that it was important to keep yourself supple. But maybe it doesn’t feel like it is doing much, it does not give you that instant buzz like other parts of your routine do, so gradually it slips off the exercise radar. For flexibility training to become an integral part of your programme, it has to be given some context in your overall fitness plan and lifestyle. Otherwise, you just will not do it. So let’s think about why you might want to do it and how you can fit it in if you do want to do it.Most exercises involve contracting muscles to create movement. If you repeatedly contract muscle groups without ever stretching these areas you can negatively affect the balance of your body and the way you look. Exaggerated examples of these effects can clearly be seen with some body builders. If they spend a disproportionate amount of time working on the parts of their body they can see in the mirror as they exercise, primarily their chest, shoulders and arms, these areas are frequently contracted under a heavy load. Without the proper balance of working the rest of the body and particularly without regular stretching of the muscle groups they are focusing on, the muscles can become shortened over time. Because the areas worked, the ‘mirror muscles’ in this case, are all towards the front of the body, this progressive shortening can lead to the body being pulled forwards into a stoop that can look ape like in its extreme, and can potentially lead to long-term injury. It is very unlikely that you will be taking things to this extreme level but the example illustrates the point that you need to balance muscle contractions with some stretching.
The way we live our modern lives puts a lot of stress on various parts of our bodies. We sit down for a large proportion of the time which can lead to shortening of the muscles at the backs of our legs. We spend a lot of time hunched over our computers or sitting in our cars, which can lead to a variety of neck, shoulder and back problems. The many hours that we spent distractedly chatting on the phone can mean hours of sitting or standing in a compromised position which can, over time, take its toll.
The easiest way to fit stretching into the schedule is simply to stretch muscles immediately after you have used them. If you do some cycling, stretch out your legs and back when you have finished. If you do some press-ups, stretch out your chest and arms. You need a moment to recover from each exercise before you move on to the next one so why not use this time usefully and stretch along the way? By working and then stretching each area of the body, you maintain the overall balance of your body which helps you to stand upright, look taller, appear thinner, breathe more easily and generally look healthier.
Regular stretching gives you the chance to realign everything in your body and to undo the damage caused by everyday life. One regular weekly stretching session for your whole body will straighten you out and remind your limbs of where they should be to keep you safe and injury free, and keep you supple as you go about your daily business. Added to this, a few neck stretches, shoulder rolls, chest and leg stretches performed throughout the day will keep the negative side-effects of modern working life at bay.
Two Good Reasons To Stretch:
- Long lean muscles lead to lithe looks.
- Stretching can balance the ravages, tension and stress of modern life.
Use the notes you make in your exercise diary to determine what stretches will benefit you most, and how you can best fit them into your routine. Examine the exercises you are doing and the results you are getting and consider what stretches could be necessary to balance and enhance these results.