As we age, we just can’t do the same things athletically that younger people can do. It’s just an inevitability, right? A natural symptom of aging is getting less flexible, right? Actually, that doesn’t have to be the case! Even though loss of flexibility typically comes along with aging, it’s not a result of aging … it’s a result of neglecting one of the most important elements of physical activity… STRETCHING.
How many times have you gone to the gym and really taken the time to stretch afterwards?
After a long run, do you really spend time and focus on stretching out your muscles?
Even on a day when you don’t exercise, do you devote time to improving your flexibility and mobility?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you’ve been neglecting stretching (don’t worry, most people do) and need to make stretching a priority, it’s plain and simple. And over the course of this series of posts, we’re going to teach you why and how. In fact, when it comes to ANY sort of physical activity, from working out hard in the gym to doing every day house work, stretching is quite possibly the single most important thing you’re not doing enough of. If you can master and prioritize proper stretching, you’ll be able to prevent and in some cases reverse that loss of flexibility… but it’s going to take work and consistency!
The Importance of Stretching
Why don’t people spend more time focusing on stretching? For one thing, most people simply don’t understand just how crucial stretching is, not just for physical activity, but for every day life. Whether we’re exercising or not, our muscles are constantly being used. Unfortunately, muscles really only know how to do one thing … contraction. Contraction facilitates movement or stability – walking, carrying grocery bags, sitting at your desk or in the car – but here’s the problem: when muscles are in a constant state of contraction while performing these daily tasks, they’ll adapt to that constant contraction. Muscles will begin to tighten up and stay shortened. When muscles stay in this state of tightness, range of motion decreases, restricting our movements, messing with our balance, and even promoting inflammation on the muscle or surrounding joint.
Dangerous Desk Jobs?
Do you work at a job where you’re sitting for a large part of the day? If so, you likely experience lower back pain from time to time because your glutes, hamstrings, hips, and core muscles (which are all connected to your lower back) are constantly contracting to stabilize you on the seat. Depending on how long you’re sitting, those muscles could be in use and contracted for 7 to 8 hours out of the day!
What You Can Do
Here is one simple tip that will help you relax your lower back in a big way. Stretch your hamstrings during or after taking a hot shower or bath. The warm water will loosen your muscles up and make them more pliable. You can stretch your hamstrings in a number of different ways – but here’s one we like that’s most effective:
Step 1: Make sure your legs and lower back are warm. After a hot bath or shower is excellent, but this can also be done post-cardio as well.
Step 2: Sit down on the floor on something comfortable such as a yoga mat or workout mat.
Step 3: Keep your legs together and straight in front of you. If you have really tight hamstrings, a slight bend in your knee is perfectly fine.
Step 4: Flex your feet and point your toes away from you.
Step 5: Begin reaching forward toward your feet until you feel a slight stretch in your hamstrings (underneath thighs) but don’t stretch too much at first. It should not be painful!
Step 6: Start breathing “into” the progressive stretch. In other words, when you inhale, hold the stretch position but during the exhale, you can challenge the stretch by going further into it (going forward more with your lower back while reaching for your feet or holding the bottom of your knees or calves to give yourself a little leverage to pull yourself forward).
Step 7: Continue the breathing and stretching during each exhale for at least a total of 30 seconds to 1 minute. Each time you exhale further into the stretch, stay at the new position during the inhale and continue further during the exhale. (Make sure you never jerk the movement or bounce forward and back)
Step 8: Even though it will get progressively more and more difficult each time you exhale into the stretch, you’ll also feel the muscles lengthening as well.
Step 9: After 30 seconds to 1 minute, release the stretch by exhaling as you slowly return to the sitting position.
Take it slowly and deliberately, but practice this stretch (especially if you find yourself sitting a lot during the day) on a regular basis. You’ll start to notice some major improvements with regards to lower back pain, and even some increased flexibility!