Stretch It Out

Head, shoulders, knees and-OUCH!!!-toes…

I remember that song and dance being a lot less painful when I was in Kindergarten than nowadays. Bending down to touch my toes used to be as easy as 1, 2, 3. Now I need to ease into it. Why? It’s probably because I’m about as flexible as a piece of chalk.

I would say I’ve let myself go, but that would imply that I’m loose, free-moving, and unrestricted. Instead, I’ve let myself slowly tighten up over time. If I were to sing and dance to that song with a group of children, my grimaces as I attempted to touch my toes would frighten them away and give them nightmares.

So what’s the solution? Mmm…stretching may be a good place to start. Like taking the time to stretch after you work out instead of rushing to the shower. The people around you may scrunch up their noses, but don’t worry. It’s not because you stink. They’ve got their focused “stank face” on for their own workout. Promise. My fingers may just be crossed, though, but who cares? It’s your body.

Or, have you ever wondering what those cylindrical foam things are in your gym? They’re not that heavy, so surely they aren’t meant for weight lifting. No, they’re actually used for something called self-myofascial release. Basically, you roll on it and give yourself a massage to work out those knots in your muscles and help them to recover. These can actually change your life. Which is why I’ll talk more about them later.

Here’s another option: yoga. This practice has been around for thousands of years, so my bet is that if it’s lasted that long, there must be something to it. This can help you to not only stretch out, but also to strengthen and realign your body to a position that helps it to operate at it’s best. Personally, I’ve just gotten started in this and I love it already. It might have something to do with the fact that I have an excuse to lie on the floor and be dead to the world in corpse pose, but at least I always feel great afterwards.

So this question may be burning in your head: why do I care if my muscles are tight? Maybe you’re just interested in burning calories. After all, yoga does not burn near the calories that running does in half the time. Or maybe you want to “get swoll.” As long as you can lift heavy, it doesn’t matter that you can’t touch your toes.

My question for y’all is now this: how long will you be able to maintain that workout intensity if you’re in pain? I’ve talked about how muscular imbalances can cause things such as lower back pain. But sometimes, it’s as simple as muscles that are too tight. Hamstrings (the ones you feel when you try to touch your toes) connect to your pelvis, and when they’re too tight, can cause your pelvis to tilt too far back and cause lower back pain. It’s the same with hip flexors. If they’re to tight, they pull forward on your pelvis and cause – you guessed it – lower back pain. How will those heavy back squats feel now with a bad back?

Tightness doesn’t always necessarily cause pain. But it still effects how your body moves through space. Another example: having tight chest muscles. Because of where these muscles connect, having chest muscles that are too tight can cause your shoulders to round forward and give you a posture that rivals that of the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Ooo la la.

I’m not saying you have to turn into a yogi and drink only green tea and walk around barefoot. I’m saying that our body functions as an integrated system. Only focusing on one aspect of fitness and neglecting the others is not going to do much for you in the long run. In terms of fitness, somStretch It Outetimes it’s better to be a jack-of-all-trades rather than an expert in only one component. Sure, you might have a favorite. Good, you’re human. But be smart. Take care of your body, because you only have one.

If you don’t pay attention to anything I’ve just said, at least listen to this: stretch. Stretch as you let your body cool down. Or just take a break from your day and stretch 5 minutes. A little is better than nothing. Ease into it, and over time, I think you’ll like the results.

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