Exercise Basics

Let’s Get Animalistic …

Interesting phrase, right? I bet you would never associate this phrase with doing something that is really great for your health and fitness. That thing is…STRETCHING. So where do the animals come in?

For all of you out there with a pet dog or cat, keep an eye on them sometime. Dogs and cats (and lots of other mammals, except maybe humans) frequently and naturally stretch themselves after a period of inactivity. Or, they may even stretch after a walk or having a chase around the house.

Meanwhile, often we humans go on with our lives without the amazing recharge and rebalance that stretching can provide. Even for those of us who get regular exercise and work on our fitness, often stretching is treated as an afterthought or abandoned altogether.

And yet, it is one of the easiest, least time consuming, and most instant- gratification-producing things that we can do for ourselves. On a par with eating a piece of chocolate, petting your dog or cat, or spending a few minutes to make a dinner reservation.

But, here’s the thing. You get MUCH MORE out of stretching than any of those other things.

  • You get instant gratification. Yes, it feels good, and that’s gratifying. But I would like to point out that there is another part of instant gratification that perhaps you hadn’t thought of. You will notice gains in your flexibility very quickly with a regular program of stretching that is done correctly.
  • Stretching balances the way your muscles work with each other. If some of your muscles are chronically tight and shortened, other muscles will have to compensate, work harder, and work in ways they are not meant to. This can make you feel less like moving, creating a vicious cycle.
  • Stretching can make you stronger. Huh? Seriously. A recent study looked at a group of non-exercisers who were given a stretching program to do 3 times a week for 10 weeks. On average, the group became 15-32% stronger, depending on the activity. Why? Muscles working better together (see #2).
  • On a similar vein, stretching creates more power for you. It may seem counter-intuitive, but muscles need to lengthen a bit before they can explode into a powerful contraction. Perhaps you are thinking that if you are not an athlete, you don’t need your muscles to be exploding. But, what are your muscles doing when the suddenly need to brace to break a fall, hoist a grocery bag or grab your luggage off a conveyor belt? Any quick move that requires strength puts a demand on your muscles to create power.

With all this going for it, why don’t we do this more often? Maybe its because we just never thought about it in these ways. Or maybe we are not sure exactly how to do it to get the most benefit. Or maybe it feels like just one more thing to put on the “to do” list. Or the momentum just isn’t there because you are too busy or don’t feel on top of your game.

Truth is, there is a lot to know about stretching, and tons of research coming out about what type of stretching to do for specific results. But in the interest of giving you a useful takeaway from reading this, I would suggest just two stretches that can give you a big bang for your buck.

1. Stand facing your kitchen counter or a back of chair, about three feet away. Bend over, reach out and grab the edge of the counter or chair top. Adjust yourself so that your back is flat (not rounded), and you are stretching maximally to hang on to the counter or chair edge. Your body will be making a giant right angle. You will feel your arms, legs, and back of your torso involved in this stretch. Hold for 8 relaxed breaths. Woo hoo!! Feels great!

2. Stand facing a flight of stairs or a chair. Step onto the second or third stair or seat of the chair with one foot. Press forward to stretch the front of the leg that isn’t on the stair or chair. Position your back foot so that when you press forward, the bent knee of the leg on the stair or chair does not press forward past the toes of that foot. Hold your torso upright, and take care not to arch your back. Hang out in this position for 8 relaxed breaths. Change and stretch the other leg.

Give it a try! And, guess what? You have just done something for your fitness and well being that takes about three minutes, will not interfere with whatever else you have to do today, and is calorie free. Awesome.

© 2016-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.


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