This is probably the most frustrating question I hear every day! Most of my clients and even my wife admits to only stretching when they experience pain. They come to see me frustrated with their pain and like everything else they have tried, they feel hopeless.
The problem here is the mindset. Since we were children in grade school, every gym teacher and coach treated stretching as an afterthought. I can remember my coaches saying, “you boys go on over there and stretch before you go home.” Of course he would leave the field and usually so would we. The only time you really hear people suggesting to stretch is when they have a pain. I get it, it is a brainwashing! However, that doesn’t make it correct.
Have you ever watched a dog or cat stretch out every time they get up to move? Look up on the wire and you will see a bird stretching their wings before they fly. To these animals stretching is innate, and it is also true of humans. The problem is, we have been convinced that stretching really doesn’t work and especially for older people.
I stretch every day of my life. I do not set aside a special time of day to stretch, although I do stretch first thing in the morning and most times at night for 15-30 minutes. Setting aside a planned time can create stress if you are running behind and are afraid you will miss your stretch out time. This will tighten the muscles and create more pain in the body. My stretching happens throughout the day and it is not a chore. Stretching, done correctly, should be relaxing and something you look forward to do doing. Unfortunately, for many of us, stretching has been painful and too much work and you are too tired to deal with it.
Think of stretching like relaxing on the beach or in a hot bath. Stretching, done correctly, is about releasing the tension in the body by releasing the emotions from the brain. It is not about pulling the muscles really hard or pressing to hard creating pain in the muscles. That is not fun and no one will look forward to that!
When holding a stretch, only hold for 3-5 seconds, breathe out allowing the muscle to relax. As the brain begins to let go, the muscle will relax. Repeat the stretch 8-10 times without force. Do not try to stretch multiple groups of muscles at one time. Special poses are stamina building which equals strength training which equals tightening of the muscles. This is how people get hurt with stretching. When pulling so hard that all you feel is a muscle hurting, you are strength training.
Stretching is a great way to take a break from a hard day. It will help regenerate the body and prepare it for a good night’s sleep and restful day tomorrow.