Updated: Aug 29
What do our dogs and cats do after they nap? Stretch, of course! I think there's something to this...
It feels good to stretch, but I’ll be the first to admit: I’m awful at following through on my stretching routine. Stretching forces me to slow down, and I always end up thinking, “Ok, I’ll get to it later.” When later comes, I think, “Ok, I’ll get to it tonight before bed” but then bedtime comes, I find myself too tired to stretch, and [sigh] I put it off once again.
HOWEVER! I almost always get a better night’s sleep when I follow my stretching routine. Stretching forces me to slow down, and I’m learning that maybe…that’s a good thing. Stretching can be meditative and in our busy lives, that might be the key that our health needs.
Personally, I really like Yin Flow Yoga classes for my stretching routine. Yoga with Kassandra on Youtube offers some great yin yoga videos. Yin yoga holds the poses for about 2 minutes, and in those 2 minutes, I can feel the tightness in my muscles gradually giving way. This is called static stretching, and
most fitness experts and physical therapists recommend holding poses for at least 30 seconds to gain the full benefit from the pose.
As we age or if we sit in a chair for an extended period of time (road trip, at the computer), our muscles can become tight from lack of use. Tightness in the muscles can lead to decreased athletic performance, muscle imbalances, back pain, and even serious injury (torn ACL or a ruptured Achilles tendon, to name a few). Because static stretching reduces tightness in the muscles, it has the potential to increase athletic performance, maintain muscle balance & alignment, and aid longevity of the muscles and joints.
Something very important to keep in mind is when to do static stretching. According to the American Council on Exercise, static stretching is NOT recommended immediately prior to exercise. Static stretching stretches out the muscles and while this is a good thing for the long-term, it is NOT a good thing immediately before exercising, primarily if a lot of lateral movement, high intensity, or plyometrics is about to be performed. Perform static stretching immediately after exercise or, as I like to do, just before bed.
A second type of stretch is called dynamic stretching. This type of stretching is designed to warm-up the muscles and prepare them for physical activity. Some dynamic stretching exercises include karaoke, high knees, open the gate/close the gate, walking lunges, squats, or downward-dog-to-high-plank. Performing 5-10min. of dynamic stretching prior to exercise as a warm-up will help decrease the chances of serious injury and will help increase performance. For individuals over the age of 50, it is imperative to do a thorough warm-up of low-impact dynamic stretches prior to exercise (at least 10minutes) for prevention of injury.
For a static stretching routine, it can be as easy as doing a few poses and when you feel tightness in a muscle, hold the pose for at least 30seconds. And if you’re like me and have a difficult time sitting still, remember that stretching is just as good for the muscles as exercising them!