Extend Yourself

Stretching for Pain-free movement

Spinal extension
Kettlebell stretch. Steve Cotter/IKFF

Over time, exercise goals will likely change. 

Depending upon your current health, age, and lifestyle, your training objectives will tend to match with the priorities that you have and value. 

No matter what your preferred exercise methods are, kettlebells, running, crossfit, body-building, sport or other, something that everyone will eventually have to deal with is pain and tightness in some areas of the body.

Regardless of your favorite training activities and performance goals, stretching is a vitally important component of a well-rounded program and should be included as a regular practice for the benefit of the long-term maintenance of health, and well-being.

Gravity exerts a downward pull on our body. It is a simple natural law and fact of life. The downward pull gradually causes compression in the body. Anyone dealing with pain or stiffness will benefit from learning how to elongate the tissues that are tight or painful, in order to counter-act this downward gravitational pull. It is one of the best activities for reducing pain and stiffness and improving movement quality. However, like all things worth doing, it's important to understand how to correctly stretch in order to gain the benefits. 

You may realize that you need to stretch but may not know how or have not had success stretching in the past.

Often times you sit there but your body is so stiff that you're unable to feel like you're making any progress.

Regardless of how you stretch or what positions, whether standing, sitting, lying, kneeling, squatting,  lunging, twisting or balancing, here are some guidelines which are generally universal, meaning you will keep these guidelines in mind throughout all stretching and flexibility movements.

To stretch means to elongate the muscles, tendons and muscle groups. A key guide to almost any stretch is to lengthen the body in the movement, rather than to compress. 

For example, when seated on the ground with legs straight out and trying to stretch the hamstrings and low back, the primary goal is not to simply bend forward to touch the head or body to the legs. Rather, more important is to extend and lengthen the spine, lifting the chest and extending the head and neck upwards. Keep reaching up and forward and maintain this elongated posture while folding at the hips. 

A common mistake is to round the spine in order to aim the head for the legs. To do that is to compress, which is actually the opposite of stretching. Correct motion is more important than range of motion that lacks the proper posture

Aim to have your hips level on both sides and your shoulders level on both sides. This means not to have one side raised higher or one side dropped lower than the other. Do not have one side twisted forward and the other twisted back.

  Do not shift to one side such as lifting your butt off the floor with the majority of your weight sitting on the other cheek. Attend to keeping both hips as level as possible so that your weight distribution is as close to 50-50 as you can achieve. 

Always breathe and never hold the breath. Maintain smooth, even breathing to keep the heart rate calm and steady.

Mentally relax as well. Do not have anxious or impatient thoughts. Rather stay calm, continuing to breathe, reminding yourself to relax and not panic, and ease into the range of motion gradually to facilitate the physical relaxation

Keep shoulders pulled down toward the hips while chest extending upward.

Crease at the hips and lengthen the spine, do not bend from the spine.

Keep the feet and toes spread out wide, do not pinch and grab with the toes.

Focus on your body and not your mind and thoughts. Feel what is going on in the body. Can you move deeper into the stretch, or do you need to back off a little? 

As you progress in your stretching shoot for small increases, which comes from consistent stretching practice. Never force your body into any stretch, take time and let the body unwind.

When you stretch in the correct manner, you will learn how to reduce pain and maintain the health and vitality of your muscles. 

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