– Key to Prevention of Injuries
I can’t tell you how often I hear a patient tell me “I don’t know how my muscles get so tight, I’m pretty active”. Simple fact is, movement is not enough. We are generally the most flexible we will every be at the tender age of 12. From then on it’s all downhill. Okay, not really, but each decade of life we loose more flexibility and have to work harder to maintain it.
So, why is flexibility important? So what if you can’t touch your toes, you didn’t want to anyway! It’s important because each muscle in our body has an ideal “length-tension” relationship. That means it needs to be long enough to contract and relax without being too long or short. For most people the latter is the case. If a muscle is always working in a shortened position, it gets tired more easily because it is not efficient and it will stay contracted to preserve energy, thus creating a “muscle spasm” or what is often referred to as “knots in the muscle”. When this happens, the muscle is deprived of much needed blood supply and thus oxygen necessary for every day maintenance and repair. The shortened muscle is also much more susceptible to overstretch injuries.
This is a progressive cycle where as the muscle becomed more and more contracted, the person has more frequent and intense episodes of pain. Often times, this can be building for years. The tightness is your yellow flag to do something, the pain is the red flag that damage has already occurred. Most of us check our car alignment and rotate our tires before we get a blow out – the same maintenance needs to be done with out bodies.
Okay, so it’s important, which ones do you do? As a general rule, slow, controlled, prolonged holds are the best. Hold a stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds and work up to 1-2 minute holds. You should avoid any bouncing or stretching into pain as this can actually be more damaging than beneficial. The muscles that need to be stretched will vary by person, but usually are the ones that are shortened more often in your daily activities. For example, a person who spends a lot of time sitting will have tighter calf, hamstring and the front of the chest / neck. A good rule of thumb is whatever posture you spend your day in, do the exact opposite motion for your stretch.
A great book for stretching is Bob Anderson’s “Stretching” that can be found on Amazon. This book has been in print over 20 years and is probably the single best book on flexibility. It has simple-to-follow pages with pictures with a 5-8 minute routine for most jobs, everyy day stretches and nearly every sport, including badminton!
Another great book is “Exercise, from the National Institute on Aging” and it is FREE! Yes FREE! Just click here! You can go to the NIA website and get all sorts of publications for free or nominal cost. This on in particular has guidelines for simple stretching, flexibility and aerobic conditioning and is tailored to the older individual, but is also ideal for a person who is just starting out with a fitness program. Did I say it was FREE?
I know, it’s hard to work stretching into our already busy days, but it’s important if you want to keep busy and active. Plus, most stretching can be done as part of your everyday routine. For example, you can do a standing calf stretch while brushing your teeth, a sitting hamstring stretch in your office chair, neck flexibility while drying your hair – it’s all about making it part of your day.
As always, you should consult a health professional if you have a specific injury or health concern as some of these stretches may not be right for you.