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

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

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.

Stretch the Animal Inside

Stretch and Smile has scoured the web for the best animal stretching pictures, gifs and videos and has put them into story form for your enjoyment. Perhaps these natural stretchers will motivate you to start stretching, or at least start smiling!

 

Everyone can find it hard to get out of bed without a stretch…

photo credit: originalpozer via photopin cc
photo credit: originalpozer via photopin cc

You should start with your arms…

via http://cheezburger.com/5806926848
via http://cheezburger.com/5806926848

Then your back…

photo credit: BrianScottImages via photopin cc
photo credit: BrianScottImages via photopin cc

Then your legs…

via http://giphy.com/gifs/stretch-cat-kitten-EMxvBrMaMoGbK
via http://giphy.com/gifs/stretch-cat-kitten-EMxvBrMaMoGbK

And then a full body stretch…

photo credit: GYLo via photopin cc
photo credit: GYLo via photopin cc

Now you should be ready to face any challenges the day might give you!

animal-gifs-rabbit-olympian
via http://www.pbh2.com/pets-animals/animal-gifs/2/

 

By mid-afternoon it’s time to hit the gym, so you warm up by stretching with a friend…

via http://giphy.com/gifs/cats-synchronized-BOaEM3TkP1uUg
via http://giphy.com/gifs/cats-synchronized-BOaEM3TkP1uUg

And then with an exercise ball.

photo credit: oppositeofsuper via photopin cc
photo credit: oppositeofsuper via photopin cc

After the gym it’s time for your yoga class…

http://cheezburger.com/7557676032
via http://cheezburger.com/7557676032

Some people are better at it than others…

via http://giphy.com/gifs/dog-submission-stretching-8ThYYhGQnUg2k
via http://giphy.com/gifs/dog-submission-stretching-8ThYYhGQnUg2k

And some people just look silly.

photo credit: lilli2de via photopin cc
photo credit: lilli2de via photopin cc

With all this stretching you should be feeling much more bendy.

via http://giphy.com/gifs/MXe0JyzKUTpbG
via http://giphy.com/gifs/MXe0JyzKUTpbG

But don’t forget the rules of stretching! Don’t stretch too fast…

via http://giphy.com/gifs/vHinHbgSXx5ao
via http://giphy.com/gifs/vHinHbgSXx5ao

And stop stretching if you feel pain.

photo credit: PamLink via photopin cc
photo credit: PamLink via photopin cc

Remember that flexibility is important no matter how small…

photo credit: eschipul via photopin cc
photo credit: eschipul via photopin cc

Or big you are.

photo credit: SubyRex via photopin cc
photo credit: SubyRex via photopin cc

 

When you start getting sleepy it’s good to stretch before bed…

http://giphy.com/gifs/reaction-snow-wolf-13PkR0XI8u0bqE
http://giphy.com/gifs/reaction-snow-wolf-13PkR0XI8u0bqE

Stretch your legs…

photo credit: Arctic Wolf Pictures via photopin cc
photo credit: Arctic Wolf Pictures via photopin cc

Your back…

photo credit: Cloudtail via photopin cc
photo credit: Cloudtail via photopin cc

And your arms…

photo credit: fhisa via photopin cc
photo credit: fhisa via photopin cc

And then hit the hay.

via http://giphy.com/gifs/ItKtBnHSpQ16o
via http://giphy.com/gifs/ItKtBnHSpQ16o

 

M

 

Stretch the Body – Physical Benefits of Stretching

Did you know that stretching could help you lose weight? It is just one of many physical benefits of a regular stretching program. By stretching at least 3-4 days a week, if not everyday, you can expect to see the following positive effects:

–                      Improved flexibility and greater range of movement:

Probably the biggest benefit of stretching is the improvement and maintenance of good flexibility. Flexibility is the range of motion available in each joint and it is considered a major component of physical fitness. It is important to keep in mind though that this isn’t a quick process. A regular daily stretching routine will see progress occur after approximately 3-6 weeks and will continue to develop and maintain flexibility.

photo credit: a4gpa via photopin cc
photo credit: a4gpa via photopin cc

This flexibility gives host to a range of other physical benefits such as:

  • Less chance of injury
  • Less chance of back pain
  • Better coordination
  • Better posture

–                      Physical Exercise:

Stretching is a very light and easy form of physical activity but it can often be overlooked or disregarded by people who want to exercise. Stretching is great because it can be done before, during, after or instead of exercise. It can be a great replacement for a work-out so that you don’t break the routine of exercising regularly.

By exercising you are also benefitting from:

  • Improved circulation
  • More energy
  • Faster recovery
  • Weight loss
photo credit: TipsTimesAdmin via photopin cc
photo credit: TipsTimesAdmin via photopin cc

These physical benefits, when combined with other benefits like relaxation and meditation, are proof that stretching each day is very important for physical fitness. If you want to start regularly stretching you should follow Stretch and Smile on Facebook and Twitter for regular stretching reminders and interesting articles on all things flexibility.

References:

The Flexibility Coach, 4 Ways Stretching Can Help You Lose Weight (Yes, really!), 2010.

Duane Knudson, Stretching: From science to practice, Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, 1998.

Charles B. Corbin & Larry Noble, Flexibility, Journal of Physical Education and Recreation, 1980.

Pozo-Cruz & Adsuar, Reanalysis of a tailored web-based exercise programme for office workers with sub-acute low back pain: Assessing the stage of change in behaviour, Psychology, Health and Medicine, 2013.

Anonymous, The Importance of a Good Stretch, Ebony, 2002.

Bronwen de Klerk, The Importance of Stretching, 2009.

Stretch the Soul

Stretching has many physical benefits – some of which were discussed in my last post – but it can also have positive mental and spiritual effects as well. Some of these will be discussed below.

Exercise is an Anti-Depressant

The first mental benefit of stretching is one that comes after the completion of any type of exercise and becomes greater after pro-longed exercise routines. It is believed that exercise can improve mood and help fight depression. This article from the Harvard Medical School reviews a multitude of studies that review the positive effects of exercise on people with depression and concludes that exercise is a valuable tool for fighting depression.

Still feeling depressed? Maybe this baby stretching will fix that…

One of the reasons this happens is because of the release of endorphins into the brain and body that occurs after exercise. This is part of the body’s biological response to exercise and they act as a natural painkiller as well as having effects on the mental and emotional state of someone. This release of endorphins will make you feel happier, improve sleep, boost self-confidence, lessen anxiety and is one big reason so many people enjoy exercising,

Energy Boosting

Many people stretch each morning in order to kick-start their day or when feeling tired to re-energize their body and brain. By stretching you are increasing blood flow and circulation, you are breathing deeply bringing more oxygen to the brain and you are releasing stored stress and tension in the muscles (and mind). This is effectively waking up you and your muscles.

A good morning stretch feels good. Remember to stretch your neck to warm the muscles up after sleeping and prevent injury.  Photo Credit: Loving Earth via Compfight cc
A nice morning stretch always feels good. Remember to stretch your neck to warm the muscles up after sleeping and prevent injury.
Photo Credit: Loving Earth via Compfight cc

For a list of good morning stretches that are simple and not too difficult or straining for the sleepy stretcher check out this article from Popsugar.

Meditation and Focus

The Way of Stretching: Flexibility of Body and Mind says that, “meditation is the exploration of the pauses between thoughts… If you can observe your thoughts as neither good nor bad, just there, and identify with the calm between your thoughts, your moods and perspectives will become more balanced.”

When stretching you should inhale and exhale deeply. Counting these breathes or the seconds you hold the stretch for, is a good meditation technique to help find this calm. Taking a short period of time out of the day to stretch is a very useful way to relax the mind and de-stress. This will leave you feeling more at ease and focused.

Tangible and Positive Results

Another encouraging benefit of stretching is that it can quickly produce tangible and positive results both physically and mentally. For example you will:
– Feel happy in yourself for doing something productive for your fitness and health.

– Enjoy seeing how much more flexible you are getting (Can you touch your toes yet? Can you get your hands flat on the ground?)

– Feel the release of your physical and mental stress.

– Feel more connected and aligned to your body.

These mental and spiritual benefits of stretching are some of the best reasons to start stretching and smiling. In combination with physical benefits they make stretching a clear choice for anyone who wants to have a balanced healthy lifestyle. Have any of these benefits made you consider starting a stretching routine? Let me know in the comment section below!

M