Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Go on, stretch yourself

In April I attended a workshop on Effective Stretching, with the Middlesex School of Complementary Medicine. Most of us know the importance of stretching when exercising, but it is not just valuable for athletes, or during a workout. We all use our bodies, and can get tight muscles, and so can benefit from a regular stretching practice. In return for a little time and persistence to form new habits, you could reduce muscle tension and aches, feel more relaxed in your body, have greater body awareness and improve posture and body alignment.

Of course, this depends on performing stretches that are appropriate, and doing them correctly. Here are some of the top tips I picked up from the workshop, and one of the most useful stretches we learned.

Top tips
  • When exercising, prepare with dynamic (moving) stretches, and cool down with static stretches. 
  • Fit a few stretches into your daily routine – when you wake up feeling a bit creaky, after sitting or standing still for a long time, or when you have a few minutes waiting for the bus or while the kettle boils. 
  • Don’t bounce in a stretch, or push passed your comfort point, both are ways to injure yourself. 
  • Stretching is easier and more effective if you relax. 
  • Do not hold your breath while stretching; maintain an easy flowing breath. 
  • Hold static stretches for 10 to 15 seconds to maintain your flexibility; to improve flexibility, stay at the end point of your muscle’s elasticity, where you feel resistance (and before it hurts!) for 30 to 60 seconds. You may feel that after 15 seconds or so you are able naturally to move into a deeper stretch, but don’t force it.

Piriformis stretch

The piriformis is a muscle in the buttock, underneath the major gluteal muscles. It can become tightened, especially if we sit for long periods, which can cause discomfort in the buttock and lower back, and may also irritate the sciatic nerve causing pain down the leg. This stretch is therefore a good one if you work at a desk much of the time, or do a lot of driving.

Start by sitting on the edge of a chair, with your feet flat on the floor.
Raise one foot and place on the opposite knee, with your shin as close to horizontal as it comfortably goes.
There will be a triangle formed between your thighs and raised calf; slowly lean forward, aiming your belly button into the triangle. Hold for as long as necessary.
Release gradually and repeat on the other side.

Do this stretch daily, or more. It’s a good one to include in your regular breaks when working at a computer.

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