Thoughts on care and prevention

My First Official Blog Post is Going to be a Stretch

Here goes!  First topic:  Stretching!  Woo Hoo!

Who doesn’t love stretching?!  Who doesn’t love to talk about stretching?!  Especially during the winter when we’re cold, wearing too many clothes to move freely, and not all of us do as good a job staying in shape as others.

Whatever your favorite winter pastime, whether it be going to the gym, skiing, running, basketball, lying on the couch inhaling spicy popcorn while also inhaling the first three seasons of Scandal on Netflix because you accidentally bumped into a great Season 4 episode on Hulu and want to catch up on the story, we should make stretching part of our regular winter activities so that we’ll be better able to enjoy our summer activities.  Yes, I’ve been told I shouldn’t use the word “should” while blogging.  We’ll see how that develops over time…

As a rower I promised myself I’ll start the season next year fit as a fiddle (I saw Fiddler on the Roof last week and that fiddle was, in fact, looking quite fit) and loose as a goose (pretending that geese have hamstrings perfectly toned and easily released so they can bend over easily and peck at their webbed feet at will). Also, as I try to practice what I preach at least every other month or so, for this blog I’m going to preach about stretching and then tomorrow or the next day I’m going to practice it.

Whether or not you are an athlete, a sedentary person, someone who sits at a desk all day, someone who stands at a desk all day (I just converted a bookcase into a standing desk, and while I’m more productive and it’s better for my back and overall health, my leg muscles are feeling it), or somewhere in between, one thing applies to us all: the body WILL adapt to the forces placed on it. Over time, repetitive forces result in compensatory, um, compensations…OK, better would be to say “compensatory changes” so I’ll say that. Static postures also result in compensatory changes. Since I’m standing more now, if I don’t stretch my legs that are contracting statically all day long,  my quads will thicken and get more leathery over time. Let’s say I sit all day at a desk instead and my hip flexors spend most of the day in a shortened state and my shoulder muscles ache because my keyboard isn’t at the right height and my biceps get tired of holding my forearms up. Whatever the case, muscles and tendons will thicken and/or shorten over time, and sometimes ligaments and bones will be remodeled to ease the forces on the muscles. If all we ask our muscles to do is contract and shorten, they will forget how to relax and lengthen.

Fortunately, this process usually works in reverse as well.  The body is very plastic.  A regular stretching routing will lengthen muscles, stretch tendons, and can lead to ligaments remodeling themselves to proper length and strength. Bony changes are hard to undo, but the process can at least be slowed or halted.

Stretching sucks. It’s a pain in the butt (especially when you’re stretching the butt muscles).

Newer research on m stretching has resulted in the push for two different types:

  1. Active Stretching: done after a 5 minute warmup BEFORE practice or racing. Warmup means light running or erging or jumping jacks or something to get your heart pumping and your body warm. Once you start feeling the temperature difference, you’ll know you’re warm. OK, that’s kind of a “duh” statement. Here’s a video of a great active stretch routine. These movements bring blood flow to the muscles, and neurologically activate them, getting them ready to work for you.

  2. Static Stretching: This is where we lengthen our muscles that have shortened over time. These are best done after practice, and/or at night before bed. A good static stretch should be held for 20-30 seconds and done regularly. Don’t do these before exercising or racing. Neurologically they “turn off” your muscles and performance will drop. Click HERE to download a pdf showing my neighbor Travis doing a few basic stretches that will make a difference to overall back and leg flexibility.

 Feel free to contact me by email or phone if you have any questions on these or other stretches. Happy Stretching!