For any athlete (and that includes regular gym-goers) stretching is important; to warm up your muscles before heavy exercise, to maintain or improve flexibility, and as part of your ‘warm-down’ at the end of your workout. Stretching ensures that muscles work effectively, thereby increasing the load you can safely place on them, reduces the risk of injury, and in a sense keeps you young and able to get your body to do active things without pain or discomfort.
Stretching should be a painless process to help improve your quality of life. If done properly, it can improve circulation, increase oxygen supply and nutrition to the tissues, eliminating waste products by moving them to the lymphatic system where they can be disposed of. For all these reasons, stretching is a perfect partner for any athletic activity, and also with massage.
Stretching should be a daily practice, and when performed before the day begins, or prior to walking, running, or workouts, leads to decreased soreness and improved body performance.
As the years go by, many of us begin to lose flexibility, which can lead to poor posture and lower agility, all three of which are combated by stretching.
Any movement is more enjoyable when the body is flexible and capable of performing without restriction. Soreness, swelling and pain all lead to a loss of tissue movement. Muscles, connective tissues, and joints need to maintain maximum movement to help avoid poor posture and injury.
In my massage practice, I see two areas of loss of flexibility most frequently: in shoulders and in hips. Here are some stretches that help:
1. Lean your body forward 45 degrees, with your knees slightly bent. Starting with your arms hanging loosely down, perform giant circles, beginning with small circles and gradually increasing the size. When you have completed this, reverse the direction and repeat.
2. Sitting upright on a chair or stool, start with your arms at your sides, then lean your head slightly forward and with both arms reach back as far as possible
3. In a standing position, raise your arms to the sides to a horizontal position. Bend elbows to 90 degrees with your forearms forward rotate your arms, so that your hands and forearms perform a 90 degree arc to just behind your head. Repeat several times. Then rotate your arms downward, with your elbows still at shoulder height and your hands level with your waist. Repeat several times.
4. For the hips, start from a kneeling position, with the weight on one leg. Put one leg (bent) in front of you and move your weight from one foot to the other in a rocking motion, keeping your body vertical at all times
5. Lying on your back, place a rope or strap around the middle of your foot; bend the knee to 90 degrees and clasp the rope with the same side hand. Place the other hand on the same knee to stabilize it. Move the lower part of the leg first to one side and then to the other. Use the rope at the end of the movement to assist your muscles to extend the movement a little further. Aim for as wide an outward movement as you can achieve with the aid of your muscles and the rope. Repeat for the other leg.
6. Lying on your back, place your left foot across your right knee then, with the aid of both hands on your right thigh, pull the right leg towards your chest. Repeat about three times. Then, do the same with the left leg
Daily repetition of these stretches will, in a matter of days, give you noticeably more flexibility in your shoulders and hips.