Stretching-Thoroughly Necessary

victoryWith It Or On It-

Whenever I am lifting weights, I look forward to the part of the routine where I can “pull my muscles out” after a good hard set. It always feels so good to get your muscles going in the opposite direction, and that is the way that nature intended it all to be. Macho lifting is showy, but without stretching your muscles out, you may be headed for a nasty surprise.

Several years ago, I was working out daily and doing a LOT of cardio (Zumba, Latin Heat, Kickboxing, etc.). I started to feel an intense pain in the top of my feet, and I actually contemplated stopping exercising because it was so fierce. I finally found my way to a foot and ankle surgeon who told me that the problem was my Achilles tendon was shortening and acting like the master puppet string for my entire foot! As the tendon shortened, all of the other muscles were being pulled and it was being centered around the top of my foot. If I wanted the pain to stop, all I had to do was stand on the edge of a step on the stairs and hang my feet off the step and stretch my heels and Achilles tendon. Simple.

I did that, it works! I am including that story as proof of the power of stretching.

What You Do-

At the end of most exercise classes, there is a short cool down. So many people leave then, figuring that is just window dressing and isn’t important. It is important so pay attention and put a good effort into stretching at the end of cardio class. It will save you a lot of pain.

I see some people standing on one leg like storks, pulling out their quads. More rarely I see people pulling out their shoulder muscles or trying to get the kinks out of their necks.That is good, but I do believe that you need a routine of stretching which is just as important as your workout.

What You Need To Start Doing-

Put in an exercise group separately to your routine, and make it a stretching group. I did what a lot of people started to do, I chose a yoga style to perform and that has done me a world of good. I like yoga because you can find classes just about anywhere at a time which suits you, and there are many styles, so finding one which is right for you is totally possible. The bottom line is that if you have a  routine for stretching then you will do it and be better off for it. Just saying you are going to do it, won’t make it happen.

I found the best way to approach choosing a yoga style was to be honest with yourself about the kind of person you are. I am a pretty fast paced, get it done, active person and so I took a long look at yin yoga. In yin you slow way down. You get into one pose and hold it for 3-5 minutes. You really stretch the muscles and connective tissue in yin; it takes a long time and you are practicing patience at the same time as you are stretching your muscles. This works well for me, and so I say that giving myself a dose of the opposite of what I am worked wonders for me.

If you are a naturally indolent soul who has a hard time getting started, try revving up with power yoga. Tense? You might like a hot yoga like Bikram or Modo. One of the best ways to make up your mind is to go on a yoga tour in your city. Take a class in a variety of places and see which one suits you. Do this as a conscious sampler, so you are not feeling like you can’t be honestly disappointed in one or the other place you go. The right form will become obvious to you. I took a class in a sweet little studio in my neighborhood. The teacher was really really nice and concerned but it was so gentle that it didn’t do anything for me, even with one impossible pose thrown in in the middle of the practice. Another one was just too trendy (and everyone was trying to be too bendy). In some the teacher was all about herself, in others it was a Lululemon fashion parade, some of the hot yoga places were excruciating, some spots weren’t all that clean, some were so dull you will fall asleep (which you can do at home for free). I knew I had found a good class when I was being challenged but felt that I could get through it and they were concentrating on areas where I needed help.*

I went ahead and signed up for extra yin yoga classes and I think it’s one of the best investments I have ever made. It has done wonders for pain and forestalled future pain as well.

The Payoff-

I wish I could say that lots of yoga and stretching has allowed me to bench press 260lbs. It hasn’t, but it’s not meant to. I can say that my muscles are much looser and I have a far better feel for what they can do, when they are in good shape, and when they are approaching their limits because I do yoga. I think my recovery time is far better and the smoothness of my lifting is much improved. My mental state is much better for having done yoga as well. I have a long weightlifting session with myself on Mondays (about 1.5 hrs) and I follow this with a 1.5 hr yin yoga class. I have not been sore ever since I started to do that tandem workout, I believe it’s because I am stretching my muscles right after I do a lot of clenching, and that makes all the difference in the world.

Of course, there are other benefits, too: greater flexibility, great attitude, more relaxed, more aware of what my body can and can’t do. I highly recommend yoga to any athlete, and if they don’t think it’s hard enough, ask them if they think they can do the peacock!

*In my case, hips. I have a nasty angry piriformis and  this practice is great therapy for that.

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