Most believe they stretch. Some swear they stretch at the gym. Others believe they are too old to stretch. The truth is, without stretching you will age faster than your friends. Most do what they think is stretching, so don’t think they are not being truthful because they are doing what they have been told to do by a trainer or physical therapist. The problem is, that what the trainers and the physical therapists have been taught isn’t totally correct either, so don’t hate them either.
I remember as a high school athlete, my coach would tell us, to get out on the field and stretch as he left the field. He would say.” you boys go over there and stretch and I will see you tomorrow.” He would leave the field and so would we. My coach was so overweight that I am sure he could not have touched his knees unless he was sitting down. Most coaches, trainers, and therapists have no idea why stretching is so important.
Think of your waist as a large hinge and your neck as a smaller hinge. 98% of the time we are looking downward when we are doing tasks of any type. That means these hinges are bent forward shortening the muscles on the front side. Your back will hurt because the muscles on the front side are short. Here are the 3 most important stretches you can do every day to prevent the pain.
When stretching, never hold the stretch for more than 3-5 seconds and repeat the stretch 8-10 times. Breathing and relaxing the muscles as you stretch is important because your muscles are as much emotional as they are physical. Think about the last time you were worried about something. Remember how tired you felt at the end of the day. Your emotions and thoughts can cause your muscles to tighten which can lead to stiffness. If you are pressed for time, here are the 3 best stretches to do every day.
- Calf stretches. There are 4 areas of the calf we need to stretch to improve our gait and prevent us from leading with our noses. Use a yoga strap, rope, or belt but not a stretchy band. If you can sit on the floor, sit with your back against the wall and 1 leg out in front. Wrap the strap around the ball of your foot and with your arms, pull your toes back towards your chest. As you pull the strap, breathe out and focus on relaxing the muscles behind your knee. If you feel nothing, lean slightly forward until you do. Increasing the pressure on the pull can lift the heel up off the floor and that is no good. Let the leg remain relaxed. If you pull too hard and you cannot breathe, lessen the pressure until you can breathe. Hold only 3-5 seconds and repeat 8-10 times. Rotate the foot to the right and repeat the stretch, then rotate foot to the left and repeat again. You should massage your feet on the top and bottom to make them softer. This will increase ankle flexibility. If you can’t do these on the floor, try sitting in a hardback chair with an ottoman.
- Lying on your side, grab the ankle of the top leg and the knee of the bottom leg. If you cannot grab your ankle, use the strap around your ankle to hold the ankle. You do not need to pull the ankle up to your hip. Your knees may not let you, due to an injury, surgery, or tightness. Do not force this. Relax the leg and gently pull the leg behind you feeling a stretch in the upper quad(front of your thighs) area. If you feel knee pain stop as you may be pulling too hard or forcing your ankle towards your hip. This meant to gentle and not painful. Hold the stretch for 3-5 seconds and repeat 8-10 times. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Sitting in a hardback chair, cross your legs sp your ankle is resting on the opposite knee. Allow the knee of the crossed leg to relax and flatten out. If it cannot lay flat do not force. Massage your inner thigh and once it is soft, rest your hand on your knee. Again do not force anything here. Then repeat on the other leg.
Stretching is about releasing and relaxing the muscles. Too much pressure and you are doing more strength training than stretching. If you feel pain in your joint that is persistent, always check with your doctor. If you have had recent surgery, be sure your doctor has released you and feels it is a good idea to stretch.