My new blogging schedule declared Thursdays to be “Stretch of the Week” days. I was excited. You all seemed excited. There were suggestions. I made stretch lists. I took some photos. And then…I realized I had to write an introductory post, which didn’t seem like nearly as much fun as sharing stretches.
But thanks to a little self-bribery yesterday and this morning, I got it done. So here’s a quick “Getting Started” guide to my stretching posts. I’ll link back to it each week when I post a new stretch, and update it as necessary.
But first (my husband is a lawyer, so this part must be said): I am not a doctor, physical therapist, or certified yoga instructor. I am an RRCA Certified Running Coach, have a PhD in Biochemistry, and love learning and thinking about how the body moves*. The information below, and stretches I post, are part of the collection I have cultivated, tested, refined, and shared with lots of folks over the past 8 years. Of course, be careful, be smart, and make good decisions for yourself. Obviously.
Run With Holly Stretching Tips: 10 Things To Know
1. Build carefully and slowly. I’ll introduce stretches progressively, and always link back to a simpler version of the more challenging/complicated stretches. If you are new, or struggling with the suggested stretch, click back and try the basic version first.
2. Stretch often, but not early. Don’t stretch when you first get out of bed – let your body move, to get the blood flowing and the muscles working a bit, before you stretch. Stiff, still muscles can be like a rubber band in the freezer – and snapping is never a good thing.
3. Spend your time on post-workout stretching. I do not suggest a general stretching session before a workout. However, if you have a trouble spot, you can give it a gentle stretch before you start, and again after your warm-up (or about 10 minutes into your workout). When your goal workout is over, finish up with a 10-12 minute full-body stretch session. If you need help building a routine, see #10. If you don’t have time for a workout, you can still sneak in a stretch session after some walking or physical activity (tidying the house, walking in from the car, etc.)
4. One stretch a day isn’t enough for tight trouble spots. Stretch periodically throughout the day (every 2-3 hours, if you can remember) to help them stay loose and relaxed. I sometimes tie my stretching to my bathroom breaks, to remind myself. One stretch for one trouble spot takes less than one minute. That’s a pretty small investment to help yourself stay healthy and safe.
5. As a general guideline, hold each stretch for 10-20 seconds. Sometimes, I will suggest a longer hold for certain stretches.
6. Listen to your body. A “good” stretch may feel uncomfortable, but it shouldn’t feel painful. When you reach the point of pain, back off a bit – sit up, shift your position, round your back a bit more – whatever you need to do (within the confines of the described stretch) to stop the pain. One of the awesome bonuses of stretching is learning how to listen to your body, feel your muscles, and become more aware of how you use them. You’ll start to realize what parts are more connected than you thought, and how loosening one spot affects another. You will probably find yourself thinking about how all these parts work together, and how you use them – not just when you stretch, but also when you run, bike, swim, spin, Cross Fit, or whatever else you like to do. This can only help you become a stronger, safer athlete.
7. Not every stretch will work for you. Every person’s body is connected a little bit differently. Some positions may never give you a stretch, and others may always feel off or wrong. That is FINE – feel free to skip those. This series is going to go on for a long time – I have multiple stretches for most body parts, so there will likely be another that can get the same area more effectively for you.
8. The stretches you need the most are the ones you don’t want to do. It’s fun and easy to stretch the parts that are flexible, and more uncomfortable and discouraging to stretch the tighter spots. The great thing about stretching, though, is that it will reward you: With patient, diligent practice, you WILL gain flexibility.
9. Breath and relax. We often tighten muscles in and around what we are trying to stretch. We do this without thinking, as a protective measure. Athletes especially aren’t accustomed to relaxing their muscles to a position of vulnerability. Hip flexors are a great example of this – depending on the stretch you are using, most people tense their hamstrings and/or glutes while “stretching” the hip flexors. [I’ll talk about this again when I share some hip flexor stretches.] Unfortunately, this response actually limits how well and deeply you can stretch. To maximize a stretch, I suggest finding a safe, stable position (so you don’t need “protection”), then linking your stretching to your breathing, like this –
Inhale: Refine position
Exhale: Relax more deeply into the stretch
Like most things, this takes time and practice – but the rewards are great.
10. When you find stretches that DO work, make note of them. Start a list, or a bookmark tab. Eventually, you will be able to assemble both a post-workout stretching routine and a repository of stretches for your trouble-spots, that you can use regularly.
Boom. Done. You are ready to stretch.
And since I intend to drag KMN and my yoga mat out for a stretching photo session somewhere lovely this weekend, I will be all ready to share lots of stretches with you, starting next week. Woo-HOO!
And don’t worry – this was a “not tremendously fun, but still necessary” post, but I also have a more fun Friday post planned!
*I can also turn myself into a human basket. If anyone who lived with me on Brown First has photographic evidence of this (I know it exists, but I don’t have it) and emails me a scan of the photo, I promise to post it.