Living in Florida definitely has its perks. Since the weather’s so great I get to spend a lot of time outdoors, particularly for activities to stay in shape.
And one of the things I like to do most is bike riding.
I recently went for a long bike ride with a friend along the inter-coastal here in Palm Beach. If you ever have the chance you should definitely check it out.
It’s a great ride.
There’s nice scenery of boats coming and going, the interesting wildlife that frequents coastal waters, and you also get a nice breeze to keep you cool during the ride.
But an interesting thing happened after the ride…
I ran into my friend at the local coffee shop the next morning and he told me that he could barely walk because his legs were so sore…while I, on the other hand… felt great and he couldn’t understand why.
I told him that I do something very simple… so easy, in fact… that many people neglect to do it.
Some people just don’t think it’s that important… but they couldn’t be more wrong.
I’ll admit, I learned about it the hard way.
A long time ago after a full day of intense hiking, I woke up so sore I couldn’t even walk down a flight of stairs.
But… you live, and you learn, right?
Well, here’s what I’ve learned through some research over the years…
Stretching allows your muscles to warm-up and can prevent unnecessary strain or injury. It can also help to improve your flexibility and range of motion in your joints.
This isn’t just important for working out, it’s essential for doing everyday functions like mowing your lawn or walking your dog.
And this becomes more and more important as you age.
There seems to be a lot of confusion about when is the best time to stretch.
Do I stretch before I exercise? Or after?
There are arguments for both… but here’s the real answer: You want to stretch before and after you exercise.
The key is… you need to warm up before you stretch.
Without a proper warm-up… stretching can be dangerous… because stretching a cold muscle can cause tearing, pulling, and straining.
A quick and easy walk is perfect for warming up your legs. And by moving your arms up and down or side by side while walking is a good warm up for your arms.
Two to five minutes is all you really need.
It’s also equally important to cool down after exercising and before stretching again. Follow the same guidelines for warming up… for the last 5 minutes of your workout… walk or jog slowly to get your heart rate back to normal.
After your cool down, your muscles are ready for stretching.
But stretching has to be done right or it can do more harm than good. So here are some tips for stretching so you can prevent injuring your muscles and joints.[i]
1. Don’t stretch a muscle group that it injured. For example, if you have a shoulder injury you should avoid stretching your shoulder. The muscle being stretched should be completely healthy.
2. Do stretches gently and slowly to let your muscles stretch gradually.
3. Don’t bounce and avoid any jerky movements.
4. Stretch only to the point of tension. In other words, don’t stretch beyond your comfort zone. Stretching shouldn’t be painful.
5. Hold your stretches for about 20 seconds and repeat them 2 to 4 times.
While stretching is good to do before and after exercise… it’s also good to do for those times when you are not so active.
For example, if you sit at a desk all day or behind a computer like I do, your body can tighten up, particularly in your neck and shoulders. I find that if you don’t take a little time out to stretch during the course of the day… the tightness causes tension to the point where you can develop chronic pain and stiffness in the back of your neck and between your shoulders.
If you’re a desk jockey… you may already know the pain I’m talking about… stretching can help you avoid that agony.
There are many stretches that you can easily do right while sitting at your desk. Here are just a few examples that can be very helpful for relieving tension in the neck, shoulders, and upper back.[ii]
Remember, for a stretch be effective you should hold it for about 20 seconds.
· Keep you head up and look straight forward and place your hands behind your back. Slowly move your ear toward your shoulder on one side… then the other. This is a great stretch for your neck.
· Interlock your fingers in front of your chest and straighten your arms. Then turn your palms facing outward. Slowly stretch outward away from your body. You should feel this stretch in your upper back and shoulders.
· While sitting forward in a chair (or standing), clasp your hands together behind your back. Slowly lift your hands upward. This will stretch the muscles in your shoulders as well as your chest.
· Sit with your arms crossed over and then raise them above your head. Reach up as far as you can. This should relieve some more of that tension in the upper back and neck area.
Don’t make the mistake of forgoing something as important, yet as simple as stretching.
It only takes just a few extra minutes out of your day. That’s it. It will keep you moving and your muscles and joints will thank you for it.
Stay loose… and always…
Best Life Herbals
[i] The Stretching Institute. The Stretching Handbook. www.thestretchinginstitute.com
[ii] The Stretching Institute. The Stretching Handbook. www.thestretchinginstitute.com