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!
Raise your hand if you have tight ham strings, low back pain, constantly sore shoulders and traps, chronic headaches, sciatic pain radiating down your legs or all of the above. You are not alone. With more of our lives spent at a desk, hunkered over a computer, or long commutes stuck in the same curved spinal posture it’s prevalent that most adults suffer from one or more of these painful muscular issues. Postural distortions are rampant (see my article “What About Posture“) and those of us that make fitness a priority, often unintentionally add to the tension in those muscle groups.
So what can you do to easily, quickly, and affordably get relief. Just roll with it!
When passing through your gym or local sporting goods store (or even Target) you may have seen an innocuous looking white round foam roll – this is known as a foam roller, or it’s official name, SMR Roller. SMR stands for Self-Myofascial Release. May sound kinky, but it’s a $25 massage and chiropractic appointment all bundled into a space saving 36″ chunk of foam.
In simple terms, foam rolling is a stretching technique that increases flexibility by decreasing muscle tightness. It’s positive effects can be felt within minutes, and almost everyone regardless of their physical condition can use a foam roller. Benefits range from relief of muscle soreness, improvement of joint range of motion and posture, and a significant decrease in tension and pain from neck, shoulders, back, butt, and legs.
So how do you Roll?
Start by lying on your back on top of the roller vertically (above photo), or placing it under your glutes or shoulders horizontally (below photo), then slowly roll back and forth over the targeted area until the most tender spot is found. Then hold gentle but firm and consistent pressure on that spot for about 30-90 seconds. Now resume slowly rolling back and forth or progressing down from that tender spot until no more muscle tenderness is felt.
For the glutes and legs sit on the roller, then supporting yourself with your hands on the floor behind you, lean back, and begin a slow roll from the top of your hips/glutes all the way through your hamstrings. You can separately roll out your calf muscles if they are tight too.
It might sound cumbersome, but it’s really very easy and almost natural once you give it a try. I am happy to conduct a skype conference call if you would like a demonstration, and clearly there are many photos and videos on the internet that demonstrate as well.
I cannot recommend this affordable essential tool in helping you have a happy, health, fit body. So get rolling!