Stretching – What’s it all about? 5 top tips to improve your stretching regime

What is the definition of fitness or “being fit”? The answer often depends on who you ask! And people approach fitness for different reasons; some want to look good only whether losing weight or putting muscle on; some want to train for an event or sport; and some just want to train to keep healthy. In all of these motivations, people use a mixture of strength and conditioning training (weights and cardio vascular training (running, cycling, rowing) to achieve their goals. However, the one area that often gets neglected in pursuit of these goals is stretching. Certain disciplines like yoga and pilates concentrate on postural awareness, core strength, stretching and breathing but many other fitness regimes acknowledge stretching as important but do not make it a priority.

Personally, I really enjoy stretching as it makes me feel better especially after running. However, if you are inflexible it can be not so enjoyable and it takes time and patience to learn to do so effectively. Here are a few tips on how to mentally and physically approach stretching:

  • Relax and breathe slowly. Tight muscles respond when the whole body and mind start to relax. Strenuous activity (which exercise often is) makes the muscles and mind tense. Breathing slowly will massively help the effectiveness of the stretch.
  • Be patient. Effective stretching takes time. A minimum of 30 seconds per stretch is recommended. As a runner, I can run up to a maximum of 4 hours (only occasionally when running a marathon) but it can still be over  2 hours in the weeks leading up to the marathon. In this case I can spend up to 2minutes a stretch, sometimes longer if I feel its’ necessary.
  • Mentally connect with the muscle you’re a stretching. Too often I see people stretch without thinking what they are doing or which muscle they are stretching. This leads to bad technique and ineffective stretching. To get the most out of stretching (and indeed out of exercise in general) it really makes a difference if you concentrate on it.
  • Learn good technique. Coupled with point 3 about concentration, good technique is essential with stretching. A matter of millimetres can make the difference between a good stretch and an ineffectual one.
  • Learn to love stretching. It’s an aspect of fitness that is underrated. Often because the benefits are not immediate or visible. However, if you want to exercise for longer and more likely to be injury free, then get involved with stretching. It will allow you to maintain better posture and continue to exercise, play sports and general move more freely and confidently as you get older.

I finished the Brighton half marathon today, stretching for 15 minutes at the end. Later tonight I intend to use a foam roller and SMR (self-myofacial release) to ward off any aches and pains for tomorrow. So next time you think about skipping stretching, pause and think maybe a few minutes won’t hurt! It will probably help you feel much better the next day!


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