Stretch Your Way to Success

by Gina Paulhus, Owner Home Bodies

Half the battle with getting and staying in shape is in keeping your body healthy. You can have all the desire in the world, but if you are constantly dealing with injuries and daily aches and pains, your training will be severely compromised.

While it’s important to be flexible enough all over, the first step is to shore up your weak points. Most of us have muscular and range of motion imbalances either due to genetics, lifestyle, sports, or training we have been doing. The phrase ‘you are only as strong as your weakest link’ really is true.

Practicing yoga or learning a full body stretching routine is great, but not everyone has the time. Invest in a professional evaluation as to where your own personal deficits lie. Physical therapists and qualified personal trainers are a great resource. You can get to work shoring up your weak links with an efficient flexibility program once you are aware of your problem areas. Only one you better balance your body will full body flexibility work come into play. It’s crucial to be consistent with stretching to enjoy the results.

Passive flexibility is the first step. It refers to the range of motion you are able to achieve, but it doesn’t necessarily transfer to your ability to be flexible while in motion—which is where the true magic of flexibility gains comes through.

Mobility work is the next step in your approach to flexibility. During mobility work you are working on applying the range of motion you have achieved during stretching into the movements you make both in daily life and during exercise. There are specific mobility drills that can help you apply your newfound flexibility while you are in motion. Again, it’s best to get a professional opinion on which mobility drills are best suited for you and how to perform them correctly.

Mobility work can be performed before exercise as a good warm-up and preparation for the upcoming workout (warm up first with 5-10 minutes of general activity to make sure your muscles are warm before mobility work). Traditional stretching programs holding stretches are best performed at the end of a workout.

You might be surprised how flexibility comes into play with pain management and injury prevention. For example (and this is just an example—not necessarily true for you!), the tendency is to think that if your low back is sore, you need to stretch your low back. However, in many cases tight hamstrings are the main problem. When the backs of the legs are tight (which tends to happen from sitting a lot) those muscles tug on the pelvis in such a way that stress is put on the low back. Unless there is a specific back problem, quite often loosening up the hamstrings makes low back pain lessen quite a bit or even disappear altogether.

When shoulders hurt, many times it is tight chest muscles that are the culprit. When shins hurt, many times the cause is tight calf muscles. It’s impossible to know without a professional evaluation, but be aware that a stretching routine can solve many of these chronic problems that limit your activity.

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