Reasons Why You Should Stretch

images-1Stretching is a very important and often misunderstood practice.  Athletes stretch before games, yoga classes are built around this concept, and sometimes older people can be seen doing this in the park.  Everyday people don’t conceive that stretching is important or something that they should do.

There are some very important benefits to stretching and let me attempt to convince you that you too should stretch daily.

  1. Stretching prevents injury.  Our muscles have proper length tension relationships that ensure their proper function and reactivity.  Daily activities necessary for modern survival alter these relationships.  Sitting hunched over at a desk tightens the hips and hamstrings, creates anterior pelvic tilt compromising the low back, shortens the muscles of the chest, and lengthens the muscles of the upper back.  Our ancestors did not encounter these problems because they led a much more mobile lifestyle.  They hunted, gathered fruits and berries, and when they did sedentary work they squatted.  This helped them maintain their flexibility.  A small side note on squatting- this position keeps the hips flexible and makes it easier for women to give birth.  Sitting in chairs puts the birth canal in an unnatural position leading to more difficult labor.
  2. Daily stretching decreases muscular tension allowing for better blood flow through the body.  Part of the goal of Qi Gong and Martial Arts traditions is to increase circulation in the body.  These practitioners found that with regular stretching they could think better and achieved improved health with less disease.
  3. By stretching you are also training your mind to focus.  Let’s face it most people don’t stretch because its uncomfortable.  With daily practice you are training your mind to shut out unnecessary thoughts and focus on a difficult task.  By training your mind to be in harmony with discomfort you become more effective in any challenge life sends your way.

Okay, so I’ve convinced you to create a daily practice, right?  Well now let’s talk about how to do so safely and without injury.  Many disciplines stretch the body by force.  Hard style martial arts, sports, and some yoga practices do so.  They tighten the body and pull.  This is the wrong approach.  By doing this you tighten the muscle belly and the stretch primarily occurs in the tendons.  This does not correct length tension relationships, increases the chances for tendon injury, and causes other imbalances.  Qi Gong and Tai Chi have a different approach that in my mind is much better.  Both of these practices are soft styles which means that they focus on creating power while using minimal muscular force.  Neat concept!  They focus on a soft mind and a soft body.               Here is how to apply this idea.  When stretching you move into position until you feel tightness and before it becomes painful.  At this point reach no further.  You simply breathe and relax.  With each exhale you focus your mind on relaxing the area that is tight.  The Chinese believe that it is the mind that creates physical tension in the body.  We use the mind to relax while exhaling because the body also naturally relaxes when you exhale.  Try this out.  You will notice that when you inhale the body reflexively tightens (as is necessary to draw in the diaphragm) and when you exhale the body relaxes.  By repeating this process looseness will come into the area.  You will reach a limit on how much you can continue to comfortably do this in one session and that is when you are done.  With practice your range will continue to increase.  This style of stretching creates lengthening in the muscle belly and is much healthier for the tendons and overall circulation.

In the future I will be posting videos of some stretches that come from the Martial Arts lineages I follow.  For now if you have any questions post them in the comments section and I will be happy to respond!

 

bradleymascuchBradley is a NASM certified personal trainer, a NCCAOM licensed acupuncturist/Herbalist, and Qi Gong practitioner. He specializes in corrective exercise, functional exercise, strength training, Qi Gong training, and Chinese medicine.

Advertisements
Comments
3 Responses to “Reasons Why You Should Stretch”
  1. gpyrois says:

    Damn your right! Stretching is so beneficial but it’s like doing crunches, it’s hard to get up the motivation on a regular basis.

    Like

    • True, I can’t argue with you there! Have you tried active stretching? That’s another way to stretch that is perhaps more palatable. If you haven’t heard of it, it is basically stretching while moving. I’ll put up a post in the next couple of days with some pictures that shows a few. Its an easy way to limber up before you start your workout. Three days a week is a good place to be with it.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: