How flexible are you? How much can you stretch? If you thought these questions are related to work and remind you of your boss, think again. These questions relate to fitness and working.
What is it?
Obviously, the one who is very fit just goes about doing his daily chores with ease and, at the end of the day, hits the bed without any complaints. A body’s flexibility is determined by stretching. Flexibility is nothing but the freedom of movement for the body. Flexibility is joint specific. As a child every one is flexible. But, as we grow, the body gets stiffer and rigid. A sedentary lifestyle and genetics can add to this. Being flexible is to perform a movement in its full range of motion. For example, the knee joint is a hinge joint (like the door hinge). You should be able to flex the joint completely till the heel can touch the butt. But how many of us can even sit down cross-legged for a long time?
Stretching is one of the main components of fitness training. You know it feels good to stretch. You do it every morning after a good night’s sleep. It is great to stretch any time of the day. Even two minutes of stretching between your work can be rejuvenating. Try stretching between those hours of non-stop TV watching your couch; who knows, you may even want to spring up and try something active.
Ironically, resistance and cardio training reduce flexibility by working out the muscles and by shortening and contracting it. This is why stretching is crucial. Flexibility training can be included as part of the warm-up or cool-down sessions or it can be a separate routine. The initial warm-up with stretches, both for cardio and resistance training, helps one work out with a lot more efficiency and avoid injuries. It increases blood circulation and prepares the body for what’s coming next. It lubricates the joints to provide extra mobility. The cool-down stretches help reduce muscular fatigue and soreness caused by working out, and moderates body temperature. Most important of all it helps the body relax.
Generally stretching should be slow while cooling down. In the case of warm up stretching, it should be dynamic without bouncy movements. So don’t forget to stretch immediately after exercising when the muscles are still warm and happy to stretch. For example, after a good cardio session, a 10-minute stretching routine will be great. A muscle should be stretched to the maximum just till the point of a slight bearable pain and held in that position for at least 12-20 seconds if it is a static stretch. For dynamic stretches the muscles need to be held in the stretched position and be given movement in the controlled range of motion.
An overall stretch routine should not take you more than 5-10 minutes. Start by stretching the bigger muscles first and slowly come down to the smaller ones and make sure that you have stretched completely — front-back, upper-lower, side-side — to complete a balanced stretch routine. Believe it or not, if you spend just a few seconds bringing your full awareness to your body, the body will actually tell which part is still tight so that you can stretch it. And the next time someone asks you how much can you stretch — and you don’t think of work — I guess I’ve been successful too.
Benefits of stretching:
- Helps relax physically and mentally (Try yoga or Tai chi)
- Improves overall physical fitness
- Removes muscle soreness and tension especially after resistance trainingIncreases mobility of the joints
- Enhances body awareness (Add gym ball or Swiss ball to your routine)
- Reduces risk of sprains and strains
The writer is an ACE-certified fitness consultant.
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