What I’ve Learnt From Stretch and Smile

This blog is full of great posts about all things stretching, flexibility and smiling. I encourage you to read all the posts i’ve made and check out my Twitter and Facebook pages as well for additional posts I’ve shared from other sources. However, if you don’t have the time to look through it all then you’re in luck because this is a one stop shop for everything I’ve covered so far in the campaign. This will serve as a mini summary and contents page of the campaign, discussing what I’ve learnt and found interesting and linking to blog posts for more in depth information.

So here is what I’ve learnt:

– There are different methods of stretching for different purposes.
Static stretching is a simple form of exercise and flexibility improvement, dynamic stretching is perfect for warming up before sport, PNF stretching is a difficult but effective way to quickly increase range of motion, myofascial stretching is good for relieving tightness and ballistic stretching is just plain bad for you! Find out more in my post Other Ways To Stretch.

– Stretching offers HEAPS of benefits.
Seriously, doing regular stretches and improving flexibility will positively affect your health and wellbeing more than you would think! You can lose weight, sleep better, de-stress, prevent injury, improve posture, gain muscle, perform better and ultimately – feel better. For more benefits check out these blog posts – Posture benefits, flexibility benefits, physical benefits, mental benefits and gym benefits.

– Sometimes stretching is bad.
As awesome as stretching is (and it is very awesome) there are times when stretching can be bad. It can reduce your power if you do it before sport/exercise, it can cause injury if you do it cold or stretch improperly and it can’t fix all muscle problems and pains. For more times when stretching is bad see When Not To Stretch.

– A lot of people don’t know how to stretch properly.
I was originally one of these people and you might be too. There are a lot of misconceptions about how stretching should be done but once you’ve learnt the right way you’ll realise it is easy and effective and you’ll never stretch improperly again. For proper technique and advice check out this Super Simple Guide to Stretching

Advertisements

Stretching and Posture

By lengthening, loosening and strengthening muscles through stretching you don’t just become more flexible; you improve your posture as well!

Good posture is the maintenance of natural spine shape and is important for health and wellbeing. In the modern world people are spending more time at desks, in the car, hunched over a laptop and sitting in general. This causes a weakening of supportive muscles in the legs and abs, the shortening of hamstrings and quadriceps, the tightening of hip muscles and a shift in the angle of your pelvis and shoulders. All these things will in turn cause a misalignment of the spine and poor posture.

Photo Credit: joelogon via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: joelogon via Compfight cc

Poor posture can cause problems like lower lung capacity, repetitive strain injuries, higher chance of injuries in general, back pain and conditions like rounded shoulders or a pot belly. It can be corrected and maintained by using ergonomic furniture at the office, continual awareness and adjustment of posture when sitting and standing, taking regular breaks from sitting and of course, regular stretching!

Photo Credit: number657 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: number657 via Compfight cc

Does your office have regular stretch breaks? Research has shown that by taking a break for stretching, office workers will improve their posture, mood and work efficiency. If you don’t, you should speak to your boss about implementing a stretch break during the day or holding a seminar on proper ergonomics and posture tips. They might be interested in Stretch Break, which is software that can be installed on workers computers to remind them to take breaks and lead them in a stretching session. Or if you want to focus on your posture individually there is also an app called Ergonomics that instructs you on equipment setup, gives you workplace specific stretches and reminds you take a break from sitting. Alternatively, you could just follow a stretching plan like the one pictured below.

via http://www.mindfulwellnessmassageandbodywork.com/media/Computer%20&%20Desk%20Stretches%20001.jpg

6 Times When It is Better To Be Flexible

Being flexible is great for your physical and mental health wellbeing, but it also can come in handy in these real life situations.

1. Limbo competitions.

Do you want to impress that cute man/woman you just met on your cruise ship? Or win awesome limbo competition prizes? Or do you just want to go as low as you can go? Studies show that being flexible is the best way to win limbo contests and reap all the fame and fortune that comes with it.

Hermes Conrad from Futurama. Sorry for potato quality!

2. When you get old.

Maintaining flexibility as you age can prevent a lot injuries and complications that are common amongst the elderly. Regular stretching will make you more flexible, healthy and improve coordination. This means less chance of falls, muscle strains and back problems, which can be extremely painful and difficult to manage and fully recover from when you’re older.

3. In the bedroom.

Better flexibility means better positions and better sex. Whether it allows you to hold your favourite position longer or try out some of the more challenging positions in The Kama Sutra, being flexible will definitely improve your sex life. So start stretching and winky smiling now 😉

Photo Credit: JPBennett1 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: JPBennett1 via Compfight cc

4. In the game.

Being flexible means better performance in many different sports. Not only does it prevent injury, it also improves things like power, vertical leap and kicking and throwing distance and occasionally it creates incredible plays, catches, tackles, etc.

5. At the office.

Better flexibility means better posture. Posture is extremely important in many aspects of life but it can particularly affect how you work. Research shows that proper posture can boost energy and increase brain function which is essential for work.

6. Running away to the circus.

Thinking about cutting off all ties to the real world and running off with the circus? Well being flexible would certainly help your cause. Trapeze artists, tumblers, mimes and contortionists all need to be extremely flexible to perform their amazing individual acts.

Photo Credit: lydia mann via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: lydia mann via Compfight cc

5 Great Yoga Poses For Flexibility and Posture

Yoga is a great way of exercising the body and mind and has a range of benefits that have been discussed in a previous blog post (which can be found here). One benefit is that it can increase flexibility and improve posture by stretching and strengthening muscles and correcting the spine. Below are 5 poses, which can be done by beginners and advanced yoga lovers alike, that do exactly that!

–     Eye of the Needle Pose (Sucirandhrasana)

Eye of the needle is an extremely relieving pose that will help stretch your hips and glutes. Lie on your back, put the sole of your right foot on the floor and then place your left leg across your right knee. For some this will be enough to feel the stretch, for those more flexible you can hold your right knee and bring it closer towards your chest. Hold this pose, release and then swap legs.

photo

–   The Lunge (Anjaneyasana)

The lunge is a good pose because it can be modified for any level of flexibility. For beginners, a standard lunge should be enough to feel the stretch. If you’re more advanced, try putting your forearms on the ground or lifting your back foot to your bum. This pose is great for stretching muscles in the hips and quads.

7730607556_16572309d7

–     Eagle Pose (Garudusana)

This is a relatively simple pose that stretches the shoulders, which can become tight from driving a car or sitting at a desk. This pose can be done in a seated position, or if you want a bit more of a challenge you can stand on one leg and cross the other leg over it. This method strengthens the legs and improves balance as well as stretches the shoulders. Remember to do both sides.

8-eagle-pose-garudasana

–     Locust Pose (Salabhasana)

A great pose for beginners, the locust will energize you, warm you up, strengthen your back muscles and improve your posture. Simply lie on your stomach and then lift everything off the ground, keeping your palms facing the floor and your neck elongated. You can go further by placing your hands behind your head, which will also stretch your chest and shoulders.

2487291_e60843a4e7

–     Seated Wide Legged Straddle (Upavistha Konasana)

This pose stretches the hamstrings and calves and improves posture by elongating the spine. Simply take a seated position with your legs flat on the floor in front of you and then open your legs as wide as is comfortable. Point your toes to the ceiling and engage the hamstrings and hold this position. For beginners, sit on some padding or lean against a wall if sitting up by yourself can’t be done. For those more advanced, bend forward between your legs as far as you can while keeping your back straight and then hold this position.

karen-passalacqua-06

For best results try to stretch every day and as always, remember to smile! 🙂

M

Do You Even Stretch Bro? Stretching and the gym.

Strength and conditioning training is an important part of physical fitness and for some it can be a lifestyle. Whether you want to be the next Ronnie Coleman, get shredded in time for Stereo or simply see some gains – you should always remember the importance of stretching and flexibility when working out. Here are the reasons why:

– Weight lifting can make you less flexible.

Now this one shouldn’t be a problem if you lift with proper form and technique. However, if the full range of motion isn’t achieved when lifting weights (for example, when bench pressing with a bar) then you aren’t activating the whole muscle. This will cause it to shorten and make you less flexible and feel more stiff. Good technique and regular stretching will fix this.

Photo Credit: Bob.Fornal via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Bob.Fornal via Compfight cc

– Stretching can increase gains.

This can happen in two ways:
Firstly, research (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20124795) has shown that novice and beginner lifters who complete static stretching separate to a workout can see a higher percentage gain in strength. This occurs because of morphological changes in the musculature, muscle length and muscle hypertrophy.

For more experienced lifters, stretching during a workout can see exponential increase in muscle growth. This has to do with the tough connective tissue known as fascia that encases each muscle. Increased blood flow to a muscle during a particular weight lifting exercise will put extra pressure on this fascia tissue when you stretch directly after a set. This added pressure will help stretch the fascia further, allowing your muscles more room to grow.

Beginner or experienced? Homer or McBain? Stretching is good for you both!

– Flexibility and stretching means less risk of injury

Flexibility is something that has to be maintained with regular stretching. If you stop stretching and focus only on strength training then you risk becoming less flexible and causing injury. You might not feel a difference when you’re training until one day your tight hamstring and hips put too much strain on your back and you injure yourself. A bad injury can stop you from training for a long time, so stretching each day will mean you can keep progressing and keep improving.

When Not To Stretch

Stretching each day is extremely important for flexibility and can provide a wide range of benefits both physically and mentally. However, there are many myths and misconceptions about the importance and usefulness of stretching. In fact, sometimes stretching is not the best thing to do. This includes:

  • Before professional sport

Recent research has concluded that static stretching is good for increasing flexibility but not suitable for warm-ups before any sort of sport that requires short bursts of power (e.g. sprinting, throwing, lifting, etc).

Stretching before a sprint race will reduce speed. Photo Credit: TexasEagle via Compfight cc
Stretching before a sprint race will reduce speed.
Photo Credit: TexasEagle via Compfight cc

This is because statically stretching a muscle only lengthens it and decreases tension. If you think of the muscle as a rubber band, static stretching before a sporting event or power exercise like weight lifting will make the muscle less elastic and actually proves to make you less powerful.
For a good alternative for a warm-up, try dynamic stretching.

  • When you’re cold

As Stretchy the Sun would say – “Stretching cold muscles isn’t cool. A hot tip is to warm them up first.” Stretching cold means there is less blood flow and less range of movement and this can cause excess tension that can lead to pulled or strained muscle injuries.

Stretchy The Sun - Unofficial campaign mascot that I just made up. Photo Credit: aarongilson via Compfight cc
Stretchy The Sun – Unofficial campaign mascot that I just made up.
Photo Credit: aarongilson via Compfight cc

A simple warm-up like jogging on the spot or doing some jumping jacks will mean less chance of injury and more efficient and effective stretches.

  • To get rid of DOMS

While stretching a muscle that feels tight and tense can feel very relieving, unfortunately it won’t help alleviate the pain of delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. DOMS is the soreness felt in muscles that occurs after exercise, particularly after intense, new or eccentric contraction exercising.

Recent studies have proven that stretching won’t help ease the pain of DOMS and might actually keep you feeling sorer longer. Unfortunately there isn’t much you can do to get rid of DOMS except wait and rest.

Other Ways to Stretch

The main method of stretching that has been discussed and encouraged so far in this campaign is static stretching. But there are other techniques and approaches to stretching that exist and each of them has different benefits and negatives. Some of the most popular and well researched are:

  • Dynamic Stretching
  • Yoga
  • PNF Stretching

These will be discussed in detail below. Other stretching techniques not addressed in this blog that might interest you include isometric stretching, self-myofascial release (foam roller), pilates and active stretching. You can find more on these types of stretching here or here.

Dynamic Stretching

–           Pro:     Best for warming up before sport
–           Con:     Not as effective for increasing flexibility

Dynamic stretching is the extending and loosening of muscles and tendons through movement. Recent studies have proven that traditional static stretching can actually reduce the potential power and force of muscles in the 30 minutes after a stretching session. While static stretching is great for increasing flexibility, dynamic stretching is what you should be doing before exercise or workouts. Its purpose is to warm-up muscles, increase power and achieve greater range of motion, which means that dynamic stretching is a crucial part of a well-rounded warm up routine.

Merv Hughes was a big advocate of dynamic stretching. Here he leads the crowd in some side bends.
Merv Hughes was a big advocate of dynamic stretching. Here he leads the crowd in some side bends.

Dynamic stretching is most effective when it is adapted specifically for whatever sport you are about to play. For example, a great dynamic stretch for AFL or soccer players is the leg swing. This dynamic stretch will loosen the muscles that will be used most throughout the game, will increase range of motion for the leg and will in turn increase kicking distance and decrease risk of injury.

A list of 7 different dynamic stretches that warm up each main muscle group of the body can be found here.

While dynamic stretching is good for warm-ups before sport and exercise, it should not replace static stretching because it is not as effective for increasing flexibility. A good flexibility program should incorporate both!

Yoga

 –           Pro:     A more well-rounded form of exercise
–          
Con:     Not as effective for increasing flexibility

Yoga is an ancient practice or discipline that connects the body, mind and spirit. It has been practiced and taught for many centuries and exists in many different forms, or schools, such as Raja, Tantra and Hatha. The latter, Hatha, is the type of yoga that has gained popularity in the Western world since the 1980’s and is what most people think of when they hear the word yoga.

In Hinduism, Shiva is the God of Yoga. Source: The Elements of Hinduism - By Stephen Cross p. 77
In Hinduism, Shiva is the God of Yoga.
Source: The Elements of Hinduism – By Stephen Cross p. 77

By regularly committing to yoga classes – which involve the repetition, refinement and advancement of different yoga poses – you can gain core strength, improve balance, recover from injury faster, have a serious work out and also improve flexibility. If you’re biggest goal is improved flexibility however, static stretching is still the most efficient way. But the big benefit of yoga is that it is a much more holistic and well-rounded form of exercise and meditation that often, but not always, involves the stretching of muscles and joints.

Photo Credit: Sami Taipale via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Sami Taipale via Compfight cc

If you want to find out more about Yoga you should follow @TheYogaJournal

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) Stretching

 –           Pro:     Most effective way to increase range of motion
 –           Con:     Requires a partner or rope and can be dangerous

PNF stretching is a stretching technique that combines passive or active stretching and muscle tension. There are different methods of PNF stretching but the basic goal is muscular inhibition. Studies have proven that by stretching a muscle, then tensing or engaging it and then relaxing and stretching it again, muscular inhibition will occur and greater range of motion will be available.

PNF stretching usually requires a partner. Hamstring stretches can also be done with a rope or large rubber band.
PNF stretching usually requires a partner. Hamstring stretches can also be done with a rope or large rubber band.

This can be a hard concept to understand without an example, so I encourage you to get someone to help you try this hamstring PNF stretch:

  • Start by making sure you are warmed up, attempting these stretches cold can cause injury.
  • Lie on your back with one leg laying flat on the ground, the other straight in the air as close to a right angle as you can manage.
  • Get your partner to keep your leg straight and to push it towards you until you reach a point of mild discomfort. Hold this stretch for 10 seconds.
  • Push your leg against your partner so that your hamstrings are tensed. Your partner should offer enough resistance to keep your leg in a static position. Hold this for 5-10 seconds.
  • Relax your muscles and have your partner slowly push your leg towards you again until you feel mild discomfort. Due to muscular inhibition your leg should be able to stretch further than before.

PNF stretching is great for increasing range of motion quickly. However, it often requires a partner (except for some stretches which can be down with a rope), which makes it much less easy than static stretching. It can also be dangerous if your partner isn’t paying attention and accidentally stretches you too far. If you are going to do PNF stretches make sure it is with someone who knows what they are doing. Otherwise, just stick to static stretching. And as always, remember to smile 🙂

M