The Right Way to Stretch
Let’s be honest, we put our bodies through a quite a bit each day. We jostle them out of bed in the morning, rush them to work, feed them a few (hopefully healthy) meals and then push them to their limits by exercising or running errands after a long day of walking, sitting, standing and anything else we need to do. Your daily schedule may not be flexible, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be! Taking the time to stretch out your body for 5-10 minutes each day can greatly reduce body pain, relax your mind, reduce the risk of injury and improve your overall health.
As we age, it’s essential to keep the body supple, flexibility enables us to move, stay mobile and avoid the health risks a more sedentary lifestyle can bring. Sitting behind a desk all day can cause back, neck and hip pain, but stretches to reverse those postures can help. Sometimes, all we need to do are twists to ease digestion or a series of simple spine movements to ease back pain. Anyone with a body can benefit from light stretching, even those who are struggling with mobility. During yoga or a stretch sesh blood flow can increase, oxygen levels are boosted and metabolic waste can be released from the body.
Pairing up stretches with your infrared sessions is an excellent way to improve flexibility and encourage toxins to leave the body. Getting stretchy before or after your infrared session can improve its effects by lengthening out the muscles, fascia, tendons and ligaments to leave you feeling better and improving your range of motion. If you’ve attempted to stretch, but stopped because you feel too tight it may mean your tissue lacks extensibility or the ability to be easily stretched. This is different than flexibility, flexibility affects the entire muscle or tendon while extensibility deals directly with the individual fibers that make up those muscles and tendons.
Here’s how infrared can help: when the body is heated to 113 ºF and then stretched the tissue starts to present a non-elastic residual elongation that persists after the stretch is taken away. Studies indicate this does not take place in these same tissues when they are not heated up and repeated sessions can produce a 10 -18% growth in length of tissues that were heated and stretched. Thus, exposure to infrared can assist with flexibility and tissue lengthening.Infrared sessions can alleviate pain from musculoskeletal disorders like tendonitis and strains while stretching the right way can prevent them altogether.
Before an infrared session your body may feel more tense or tight. It’s best to start off with short, light and gentle stretches because your body is not warmed up. After an infrared session, we still recommend starting slow, but you may be able to get deeper into the stretch and hold it longer. As you hold the pose you may be able to get deeper with each exhale. Remember, when you’re stretching, there’s no need to speed through your poses. When you’re finished with a stretch get out of it slowly, think of your body like a rubber band, we don’t want any snapping happening.
When circulation to your muscles and joints has increased after a jog or infrared session, the body can become more flexible. This is a good time to stretch and really feel the benefit, but be careful to not overdo it, if a stretch hurts you may have taken it too far and you can always back out, slowly! Maybe you’re super flexible, does that mean stretching regularly doesn’t apply to you? Not necessarily. If you find that you’re quite bendy, focus on engaging your muscles during a stretch to avoid overdoing it and straining just because you can.
As you can see, getting your stretch on is an integral part of staying fit and healthy and a regular routine can enhance circulation, increase range of motion all while sending calming signals to your brain. Don’t get discouraged, it may take a daily practice for you to bend down and easily reach your toes. That is totally OK! It’s more important that you listen to your body and choose stretches that feel good.
Here are our top 3 simple and satisfying daily stretches.
- Cat and Cow Pose is great for the spine and alleviating back and neck pain. Start in an all fours position (hands and knees) with your shoulders over your wrists and knees over the hips. Make sure you’re in a neutral position straight back and engaged abs, then inhale deeply.
For Cow: On the exhale, arch your back while raising your head (gently!) and tailbone towards the ceiling.
For Cat: On your next inhale round your spine towards the sky with engaged abs. Keep your chin tucked in and allow your neck to release into the pose. Continue to alternate poses on each inhale and exhale, we like to do this about 8-12 times.
- Hip Flexor/Quad Stretch Are you feeling some tightness in your lower back? Runners, cyclists and many of us have tight hip flexors which cause a sensation of pulling or tightness. After a workout or infrared session get into a lunge position with your right foot forward. Gently lower your left knee to the floor, padding underneath if you feel knee discomfort. Once you feel steady, reach back with your left arm and grab onto your left. Slowly, and we mean slowly, pull your foot towards your glutes. Hold for 30 seconds or so, release and switch sides.
- Reclining Pigeon/Figure Four position can help your lower back, glutes and hamstrings release. Lie on your back with bent knees and feet on the floor. Cross the left ankle above your right knee. This might be enough. If you want a deeper stretch, place your hands under your right hamstring and pull your legs up and towards your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and switch sides.
And there you have it! Start off with the stretches listed above in the morning, evening or after your infrared session. Once you’re comfortable, add to your routine, the internet is full of fabulous flexibility building sequences as well as sequences to stretch out specific parts of the body.
- Wahlberg, Kara. “7 Incredible Results You Can Get From Stretching Every Day”. Prevention. N.p., 2016. Web.
- Collins, Sonya. “Stretching: How To Stretch, When To Stretch”. WebMD. N.p., 2016. Web.
- “Tissue Extensibility – Improve Your Stretching – Fleet Feet Sports West Hartford”. Fleetfeethartford.com. N.p., 2016. Web.