I hate stretching. Well, I don’t exactly hate it. I just haven’t set a habit of stretching regularly, even though I need it. Teaching intense cardio-strength classes on a daily basis takes its toll, and I feel the stiffness and soreness throughout my body. It’s not a rare occasion that I’m hobbling around my house, rolling out my hunched shoulders and tense neck, and clutching my tight lower back. No bueno.
So what is a group fitness instructor to do? Well, exactly the concept she preaches to her students. Stretch. Breathe…and stretch. Now to make this a consistent habit, I stretch for five minutes a day in the mornings. Yup, five measly minutes. Not a grand act here, just something small and manageable that won’t pose an excessive burden to my hectic schedule. So while my coffee is brewing, I run through my gratitude list and do a little stretch routine consisting of runners’ lunges, yoga sun salutations, shoulder rolls, and torso twists, to name a few. With a favorite slow song in the background, I take a few breaths and melt into each position. This daily practice feels good and allows me give a gift to myself and my body, loosening it up after all I put it through day in, day out. Here are tips to a few good stretching minutes:
Reap the Benefits. Stretching helps to develop and maintain a healthy level of flexibility, maximizing the range of motion of any particular joint. It increases circulation to parts of the body and aids in post-workout recovery. Plus, it results in overall relaxation and well-being.
Go Slow. Stretching should be done in a slow, mindful and controlled manner. "Milk" each movement without bouncing or forcing. Any sudden or sharp tweaks can increase your risk of injury, so be careful. Your stretch should stop at “mild discomfort,” not pain. If you feel strain or pain, you have stretched too far.
Take Deep Breaths. When getting through the hustle-bustle of the day, we often forget to breathe. Well, not completely forget (or you’d be dead), but those short, shallow breaths don’t quite channel the physical and mental relaxation needed for an effective stretch. I suggest deep, steady breaths that actually facilitate deeper stretches. Added benefits of deep breaths? They help clear the mind and calm the nervous system. You’ll feel better everywhere.
Take Your Time. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds. During the cool down portion of my group fitness classes, I play slow music and lead each stretch for about 10 seconds. I transition from one stretch to another in a natural, fluid manner. I mimic this same flow when stretching at home by myself. Just one sustained position at a time, for 10 seconds or more. By the time a five-minute song is over, I’ve hit all the major muscle groups.
Stretching, done. Now, time to spring off this yoga mat and attack the day.