For my whole life, I have been known for not being flexible. When I was young, I was never able to reach my toes or go into splits like the other kids were during gym period, dance class, or color guard practice. I remember being told to stretch as far as I could by reaching a little further into the pose and being told not to bounce.
As I became an adult and started to exercise in gyms, I rarely took the time to stretch because I wanted to spend more of my time burning calories or building muscles. This took a toll on me over time as I strained and pulled my muscles, which sometimes took me out of the workout game for weeks as I recovered. Since I started my current journey 7 years ago, I incorporated more stretching in my routines, because I started doing workout videos with nationally acclaimed personal trainers who include warm up and cool down stretches in each workout. Since I have been consistent with these routines for a several years now, I definitely noticed a difference in that I can reach closer to my toes than I have ever been able to do in my life. While I still can’t touch my toes with straight legs, I am getting closer as time goes on.
In my journey, I learned the following lessons about stretching:
- It is important to stretch before and after every workout.
- In the beginning of the workout, when the muscles are cold, it is important to incorporate movement and repetition with the stretches as the body heats up. During the warm up, it is also encouraged to do light jogging as well. I heard someone in a video say, “Muscles are like rubber bands and can snap when they are cold.”
- At the end of the workout, the trainer encouraged us to hold our stretches (static stretching) as far as comfortable because the muscles are warm and more flexible at that point. They stressed that stretching should not cause pain.
- It is never OK to bounce into a stretch.
- I no longer compare how far I can stretch compared to others. My goal is to stretch further than I did yesterday.
With the rush of life, I can completely relate to wanting to minimize the amount of time a workout takes. However, the warm-up and the cool-down stretches are the most critical parts of the workout because “they prevent injury”, as Jillian Michaels preaches in many of her DVD’s. One of the aspects of Jillian Michaels I can greatly appreciate is her self admittance of not being very flexible herself which helped me increase my confidence.
If you are not sure what stretches to do before and after working out, there are many Youtube videos out there, which have both dynamic and static stretching routines. Remember it takes less time to stretch than it does to nurse an injury back to health. You owe it to yourself to take care of your muscles so they can take care of you.
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