One of the most common causes of muscle injury occurs when we are not prepared to move in certain ways throughout our daily lives. For example, we catch ourselves in the act of knocking over our hot coffee, and reflexively jerk to stop painful outcome; meanwhile, we have suddenly torqued our body into an unnatural position, and the next thing you know, we’ve pulled a back muscle. Ouch!
In order to most effectively adapt to all of our daily movements, including those unexpected and unplanned events, we need to stretch out our muscle fibers on a daily basis.
Research has shown that physical fitness, including muscle strength, flexibility, and balance, have been shown to improve both cardiovascular and cognitive health. It is important to keep in mind that both aerobic and strength training exercises are important in our daily lives; however, it is also equally important to ensure that the muscles we are working so hard to build, are also being stretched out on a regular basis. The more we can elongate our muscle fibers, the more we can work to effectively strengthen each individual fiber, ensuring maximum functionality when it comes to movement throughout our daily lives.
For example, when we sit at the computer for long hours every day, we lose functionality in our chest and upper back muscles. What happens is that the fibers in the front of our chest become shortened, while the fibers in the upper back and neck become stretched beyond their normal limit. This is what causes that typical chronic neck and shoulder pain that has become so common in our society. Not only that, but this can also affect your ability to breathe functionally. In other words, that hunched-over posture will eventually begin to restrict your lungs from their ability to inflate to their full capacity, leaving you feeling fatigued and short of breath.
So, you may be asking yourself, “How do we maintain flexibility?”
This can be done in a number of ways:
- If you enjoy group exercise settings, perhaps a yin yoga or a hot yoga class would be the best option for you.
- If you prefer exercising at home, then using tools such as YouTube.com or GaiamTV.com can help you to get started with some easy movement exercises and stretches to try at home.
- Whichever you decide to be best for your lifestyle, it is imperative to work some form of stretching into your daily life.
An easy way to start would be to stretch the main muscle groups every morning upon waking:
- Calves – single leg stretch on the floor.
- Hamstrings – single leg stretch on the floor.
- Quads – kneeling or standing stretch – one leg at a time.
- Pecs & shoulders – doorway stretches – one or both arms at a time.
- Triceps – one elbow in the air over your head; opposite hand pulls across to enhance stretch.
- Low-back – gentle forward fold / bend; either hang like rag doll, touch your toes, or the ground.
- Hip flexors – kneeling stretch with one leg in front and opposite leg behind you.
This should only take approximately 20 min to complete. Additionally, you can always add in stretches throughout the day as needed; for example, if you work at a computer all day, then taking mini-breaks every couple of hours to stretch your pec muscles will help to open up the front of your chest and allow you to breathe.
Always remember to breathe when stretching, not to push past that initial point of restriction (e.g. do not bounce), and be very gentle by passively allowing your body’s weight to do the work. In other words, do not push yourself when it comes to stretching; allowing your breath to help facilitate the stretch will continue to open up the muscles, bringing in fresh blood, and further facilitating the stretch.