Sunday, May 25, 2014

Just because you're inflexible, doesn't mean you have to be

Did you know that flexibility is an entirely trainable quality? 

Sure, we get a little more inflexible over the years (a process called fibrosis, where thick connective tissue takes the place of some of our more pliable fibers that are getting worn out), but it doesn't prevent us from staying flexible. In fact, the most common reason for inflexibility is not age, or genetics, or gender, but DISUSE. It's exactly because we DON'T stretch that we become so stiff. 

No, I'm not going to tell you that to be flexible you absolutely have to start doing yoga, although you might really enjoy the practice. But it's been shown in studies that including a stretching program twice a week for five weeks can improve your flexibility over time. 

You can elect to do a dynamic stretching program--ask any of us for some Burdenko moves, for instance--where you move through the stretches. Dynamic stretches are great for athletes who are getting ready for practice or competition, as they mimic the exercise movements they'll perform during their game and really get the body thinking about what it's about to encounter. 

You can also do static stretching, where you slowly make your way into the stretch and then hold the end position for 30 seconds or so. The key is to find a point in the stretch that's just a little uncomfortable, but doesn't hurt--and where you definitely aren't shaking. You trigger your stretch reflex when you stretch TOO far, which can actually make you TIGHTER (it's a defense mechanism for your muscles, to avoid being ripped by being stretched too far). Also, avoid bouncing into the stretch--while this (known as ballistic stretching) isn't technically as bad for you as previously thought when done correctly, the risk for injury is much higher, and really not worth the "reward" when static and dynamic stretching offer better options. 

Example of Static Stretching
One of the key things to remember is to warm up before you stretch. Warming up is important in ANY of your activities, as it gets you ready for your workout by increasing your body temperature, getting the blood to flow through your body a little more, and improves viscosity in your joints (in other words, gets the synovial fluids that keep your joints lubricated to move better so your joints move better--more like oil than maple syrup), among a number of other things. A general warm-up for five to ten minutes is perfect--a quick walk on the treadmill (or around the block, or at the beach), a few minutes on a bike--just enough to break a sweat.Then, you can go through and do a number of stretches as an "active recovery" day, or you can continue on with your workout and stretch for 5-10 minutes afterward. 

Blog post by Ashley Crosby.

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