“Don’t keep reaching for the stars because you’ll just
look like an idiot stretching that way for no reason.” ~Jimmy Fallon
“Forty is the old age of youth; fifty is the youth of old age.”
My age, 45, puts me at the top of the life span bell curve. It’s
a great view, but now that I have trudged up this midlife hill, I have
noticed that there are a few things I can’t quite do like I did
when I was 25. I don’t bounce back from exercise as quickly. I can’t
sleep-in anymore because my back wakes me up at 5:45 a.m. And I definitely
can’t eat like I used to, so I live vicariously through my teenage
sons who take for granted that they can order a 24 ounce T-bone at Bennie’s Red Barn.
Being that my medical practice revolves around promoting a healthy lifestyle,
I try to practice what I preach by eating well and exercising a few days
a week. Like most adults, however, I seem to have 30 hours of obligations
to try and cram into a 24-hour day, so squeezing in 30 minutes of exercise
only occurs if I wake up at 0-dark-thirty to work out. Occasionally when
I’m up this early, ready to jog or do a push up or two, I think
to myself that maybe I should stretch first. Should I stretch? What do
I stretch? How do I stretch? Can I even touch my toes?
Stretching can be a very controversial subject. Some folks believe in it
and some don’t. Some even think it may cause injury. I am in the
pro-stretching camp and think it is beneficial when performed properly.
I have talked at length on this subject with Paul Trumbull, Director of
Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Services at Southeast Georgia Health
System. He says that he is such a proponent of stretching that these days
his kids will call him with a detailed description of their aches and
ailments, so he can prescribe the proper stretching regimen.
A good stretching program should not take a back seat to exercise.
In its most basic form, yoga is an exercise program that utilizes stretching
to enhance balance, symmetry, flexibility and overall strength. (Hopefully
this definition is satisfactory for the professional yogis, so they don’t
tie me up in the pretzel pose.) There are multiple benefits of stretching,
- Improved joint range of motion
- Improved performance in physical activities
- Decreased risk of injuries
- Increased muscle effectiveness
- Reduced muscle soreness after exercise
Before plunging into stretching, make sure you know how to do it safely
and effectively. While stretching can be performed anytime and anywhere,
proper technique is important. Stretching incorrectly can actually do
more harm than good.
Here are a few basic tips on proper stretching:
Static stretching should never be used as a warm up. There area really two types of stretching: dynamic stretching (like light
walking) and static stretching (like touching your toes). You may hurt
yourself if you statically stretch cold muscles. Instead, stretching before
exercise should consist of light jogging, biking or elliptical for five
to ten minutes. Another way to perform a dynamic warm-up consists of movements
similar to your sport or physical activity at a low level then gradually
increasing the intensity.
Symmetry is important. Very few of us need to have the flexibility of a gymnast. Instead, focus
on striving toward equal flexibility side to side. Flexibility that is
not symmetric may lead to injury since the more flexible side may have
to compensate for the tight side.
Make stretches sports specific. I know this is common sense, but the joints and muscles that we use the
most are the ones that get tight. Therefore, focus on stretching those
joints and muscle groups used most in your sport or activity. For example,
soccer players are vulnerable to hamstring and hip flexor strains, so
stretches focusing on those muscle groups are extremely important for
Hold your stretch. Breathe normally and hold each stretch for 30 to 60 seconds.
Don’t aim for pain. Expect to feel tension when you stretch but not pain. If it hurts, just
back off a little.
Keep up with your stretching. Although it can be time consuming, you can achieve the most benefit utilizing
dynamic stretching before exercise and a static stretching program as
a cool down after exercise. Skipping regular stretching will decrease
the potential benefits of increased flexibility and range of motion that
may increase the risk of injury.
Hopefully after reading through these guidelines, you will want to start
incorporating a solid stretching program into your exercise routine. There
are some good websites that go beyond the scope of this blog that discuss
different types of stretching for specific muscle groups, joints and musculoskeletal
issues. One of my favorites is www.stretching-exercises-guide.com. This
website allows you to focus on different areas of the body and gives detailed
instructions on proper stretching. Keep in mind that stretching is not
the panacea for an overuse injury.
So next time you see me on an elliptical trainer reading a Saltwater Sportsman
with a Big Gulp in the cup holder and Twinkie wrappers scattered all over
the ground, remember, I’m just warming up.