One of the most important aspects of fitness is often the least focused on – that of flexibility. I must confess that even I tend to place the least priority on flexibility – me a former full-time dance student! But in our fast-paced, jam-packed lives, it often seems that all we have time to focus on is exercising (cardio & resistance training) and nutrition (which we know to be the largest part of the fitness pie. But I need to remind us all that flexibility is a major and necessary component of total fitness.
It doesn’t matter how strong your muscles are if you don’t the flexibility to move them in a full range of motion then you will not be able to push past your current fitness levels (i.e., burn more fat). Without good flexibility you’ll not be able to run or even walk the speed and distances you seek, for your muscles will be too tight and too shortened and therefore your legs will simply lock up.
If your job keeps you in a sedentary seated position for long hours, it’s hugely important to stretch and lengthen your muscles and spine (see last week’s blog Respect Your Spine). This will improve circulation which will in turn improve your productivity.
Of course as a Life Coach, I can not ignore the figurative necessity for flexibility in our minds and attitudes as well. Emotional flexibility allows us to embrace change better and affect change in our lives – and our workouts.
So today I’m suggesting that we all commit (myself included) to improving our flexibility over the next month, and then we can compare notes and really testify to the benefits of being more flexible.
First, prioritize and schedule a small chunk of time for stretching (10 mins minimum). It’s important that your body be warmed up so I recommend either right after a shower, or right after a long day but prior to being sedentary for several hours. (In other words, after you’ve come home from work and made dinner, but before you plop down on the sofa to binge watch Netflix for a few hours before bed).
Second, challenge those around you and keep each other accountable and on task. Flexibility is essential and beneficial to everyone around you, whether children or seniors, spouses or co-workers. The more people in your life that will take the time to stretch with you (although it doesn’t have to be at the exact same time), the more likely we will all achieve this goal and reap the rewards.
Third, remember to be flexible in your head and heart. Not only does this reduce the emotional tightening of your muscles (no more stress headaches), but it will likely improve your relationships too. Be more willing to see the other side of things, and be more forgiving of yourself and others.
Lastly, I will leave you with a few specific details about the best way to be flexible, i.e., stretching techniques:
- Never stretch cold muscles.
- Always move slowly into a position that stretches the desired muscles to the point where you want to stop. Then hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds, while breathing in a slow and relaxed manner. Then stretch further and repeat the hold and breathing. Do this one more time on that muscle and then you can move on to the next.
- Start at the head/neck and move down towards feet: neck, shoulders, lower back, glutes (butt), hamstrings (back of thighs), feet/ankles. Look on the internet, YouTube or ask me for specific examples of stretches that you can practice.
Now go be flexible and improve the quality of your body and your life!
By now most of you know that it is highly beneficial to incorporate resistance training (lifting weights) into your weekly fitness routines. Toning, trimming and/or building muscle burns more fat calories than cardio, increases bone density, and keeps a body looking good and functioning efficiently. What’s important for you to understand is that form is the most important aspect of resistance training. We trainers say “lift smart or go home.”
The problem with so many people finally embracing the weights, is rampant incorrect lifting via poor posture, using over-heavy weights, and lack of proper muscle isolation. The results from this bad technique range from postural distortions (rounded shoulders, tightened leg muscles) to muscle strains. In other words, lifting incorrectly can create neck strain, chronic headaches, sciatic pain in legs, hips and glutes, spine-misalignment, knee strain, ankle weakness, and more.
Therefore today I will offer three easy tips that if followed will help you avoid some of the painful postural distortions. (Should you desire specific exercise instruction, contact me directly.)
1. BALANCE YOUR WEIGHTS:
Even if your goal is to have huge muscles, lifting heaving is not the necessarily the way to achieve that goal. The key is to find the balanced amount of weight that challenges your muscles without having to over-tax adjoining muscle groups just to get the lift (or push) conducted. Example: Dumbbell Biceps Curls performed with too heavy a weight can overly-engage your delts (shoulders) and traps (lower neck). This in turn, stretches those muscles out while shortening your pectorials (chest muscles), which causes forward-rounded shoulders that pull on your neck and spine.
Performing repetitions of 8-12 where your muscles are being exhausted through the repetitions while still bearing at least 85% of the actual weight will result in fast and visible benefits while not wrenching your muscles or spine of out whack.
2. START WITH GOOD POSTURE:
This tip works in tandem with the tip #3 below as you cannot have good posture without limber and flexible muscles. This is not to say that you have to be “gymnast-limber,” but you do need to have enough flexibility to execute the moves listed below. Performing moves while standing in a neutral position with head, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles aligned (or sitting with torso aligned) will allow you full range of motion on all exercise, better isolation of the targeted muscle(s), and again, less incorporation of unnecessary muscle groups.
3. STRETCH CORRECTLY:
Before any resistance training workout I always recommend at least 5 minutes of non-aerobic cardio (i.e., elliptical or walking at an incline). This gets blood flowing evenly throughout the body and warms up the muscles making them more supple for flexing and contracting. Equally important is a post -workout stretch of your entire body. A lot of people tend to only stretch the muscles they have just worked, but again if you are prone to improper lifting form, you will have undoubtedly worked other muscles that would benefit from stretching as well. You do not need to be a yoga-master, but a well-stretched body should be able to perform the following stances:
Standing in a deep, stationary and stable 90-degree lunge (each leg);
OVERHEAD ARM STRETCH:
Able to clasp your hands above directly over-head without your head sticking forward in front of your arms or your arms forward in front of your face (arms directly in-line with ears)
SUPINE OVERHEAD ARM STRETCH:
Able to rest arms comfortably over-head while lying in a supine (face-up) position on the floor. (If your arms are not able to comfortably rest on the ground above your head, your shoulder-girdle is too tight.)
WIDE-LEG TOUCH DOWN:
Relax into a wide-leg toe touch – legs in wide stance, bent at waist, fingers or palms hands resting comfortably on the ground.
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In closing I continue to encourage everyone to resistance train – weight bearing exercises are so beneficial for all adults – but please, take care, take your time, tell your ego to be quiet, and lift smart!