The One Thing Your Fitness Routine is Probably Missing
Cardio exercise...check! Strength training....check! Stretching....*crickets chirp*
There's a saying, "You are only as young, as your spine is flexible." It underscores just how critical flexibility is to maintaining a healthy body. The trouble is that most people find it hard to take the time to stretch at the end of their workout and rarely schedule into their daily life. It's hard enough to find the time to exercise, so stretching usually gets skipped altogether.
I had been flexible all of my life...until I really started working out and strength training. Slowly, I could see my flexibility decreasing as my strength increased. It was completely my own fault, I didn't make stretching after I exercised a priority, and my body suffered as a result. Before I started stretching regularly, I would suffer from bouts of lower back pain that could last for a couple of days or weeks. Now that I have been diligent with stretching, I thankfully have not had any episodes of back pain.
After we became trainers, Meg and I really realized that having a healthy body meant training cardiovascular health, strength training, and maintaining flexibility...they all go hand in hand! Now, I never teach a class or train an individual client that we don't end with stretching. I even set my alarm on my phone so I don't run through the stretching time. It's critical to maintaining an injury-free body!
The benefits of stretching:
- Decrease your risk of injury.
- Improve posture, which helps with better breathing, reduces back pain and creates less stress on joints.
- Reduces stress on ligaments that attach to the spinal cord and can cause lower back issues if they become too tight.
- Studies have shown that stretching makes you feel more invigorated and awake.
- Stretching helps with overall balance.
- Flexibility will help you perform your regular exercises with better form. Poor flexibility is the biggest factor causing improper form for exercises like squats, where the tight hip flexors, knees and ankles cause you to bend too far forward or push your knees over your toes too far.
- Having good flexibility helps you move around better in general - getting up from sitting on the floor, bending over to pick something up, etc.
Some things to remember about stretching:
- Always make sure your muscles are warmed up before you stretch.
- Think about trying to gain the same amount of flexibility on each side. Symmetry in strength AND flexibility will help you stay injury free. When you see one side is more flexible than the other, try to work on alleviating the discrepancy and you can help reduce your risk of injury.
- Schedule stretching into your workout. If you try to squeeze it in when you can, it usually never happens. If your workout is going to be hour, set an alarm on your phone 5 -10 minutes before the end of the hour, to signal that it's time to stop and begin stretching.
Remember just like strength and cardio heath are important to your overall fitness, maintaining basic flexibility is as well! Don't skip stretching for an extra 5 minutes on the treadmill, or an extra set of dips. It is just as important to creating a healthy body!