Stretching is one of those things everybody should find some time to do.
See, your body is literally always adapting to whatever you do repeatedly. Think about how you naturally become better at something that you practice.
One day, you may struggle to bench press 135 pounds for five reps, but by next week, you’re able to lift it easily for eight reps. A beginning golfer might barely be able to hit the ball, but after two months of practice, she’s able to drive the ball 150 yards with a swing that has consistently matured with practice. Your body gets better over time.
This can work in a negative way as well. When you perform any kind of strength training, you repeatedly contract your muscles, which, while making your muscles stronger over time, also makes them shorter and tighter. The same goes if you’re doing any other kind of physical activity repeatedly.
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Say that you sit at a desk all day. Your muscles adapt to that sitting position to become more “efficient” at sitting, which makes certain muscles — like your hamstrings and hip flexors — become too tight. Other muscles, like the ones in your neck, might actually be overstretched from looking at computer or cell phone screens. Over time, this cumulative, repetitive use of your muscles leads to muscular imbalances around your whole body, which can cause pain.
So, if you engage in any form of repetitive activity several days a week — and that’s pretty much everybody — it would absolutely be in your best interest to engage in some form of simple stretching regimen to prevent, or perhaps even reverse, pain issues that come with having tight muscles.
I want to recommend some simple beginner stretches that you can use every day to keep you balanced and limber. The best times to stretch are either just after you’ve worked out, since your muscles are warm, or at the end of the day before you go to bed. Taking stretch breaks while you’re at work is also a good idea.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Standing straight, bend down at the waist to touch your toes. If you cannot touch your toes, don’t force it. Simply allow your hands to go as far down as they can. Your legs should be straight with just a slight bend in your knees. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. Note: Some people may have to avoid this stretch because of back issues. An alternative to try is the Lying Hamstring Stretch with a towel. Look it up online when you get a chance.
“Duck” Neck Stretch
Sit upright in a chair, and while looking forward, pull your head backward while tucking your chin in. Hold this for 5-10 seconds before releasing. This helps to balance the muscles in your neck that become unnaturally stretched from looking at screens all day long.
Arm and Lat Stretch
Lift both of your arms above your head, while interlocking your fingers above your head with palms facing down. Then, reverse your palms so that they’re pointing toward the sky, while pushing them upward, feeling the stretch in your arms as well as in your sides and in parts of your shoulders.
This is by no means an exhaustive set of stretches, so do some of your own research, but if you’re at a loss for where to start stretching, use these as a starting point. Eventually, you can build your own stretching routine that suits your needs.
Peach County resident Shawn McClendon is an ACE certified personal trainer and owner of the health/fitness blog YourHealthAtTheCrossroads.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at @ShawnB2B on Facebook.