Stretching is essential for every athlete. But when it comes to this part of training, you don’t have to stick to the rules. Most folks follow a routine of standard stretches: bend over and touch your toes for the hamstrings, bend an arm and push the elbow up for the shoulder, lunging for the quads and groin and so on.
But get away from the standard stuff, and you can design personalized stretches that will be specific for your body.
Mixing it up
Do you spend hours a day sitting in one position, either at an office desk or driving? If so, then many of your muscles, and the tendons that attach those muscles to your bones, have shortened.
That will limit your range of motion. When you make moves that put pre-shortened muscles and tendons into a stretch, like trying to climb stairs two at a time, or taking long steps over rocks while hiking, you’ll feel as if you can’t step that far.
But you can make those steps — if you stretch the muscles of your lower body so they are longer and more flexible, less constricted.
Think about which muscles in your body feel tight, then start using your imagination.
To stretch the lower spine and calves, sit on the floor with your legs slightly flexed. Grab a towel or a belt at each end, and center it over the arch of your feet. Now slowly straighten your legs.
This can be done anywhere, using whatever works. It can be a parka used to stretch before you go out skiing or snowboarding. It can be a scarf used while you sit with friends watching television. The assistance of the towel, belt, scarf or other object gives you more stretch ability than just leaning over and trying to touch your toes.
Using an object for assistance helps increase the range of any stretch. This is where your imagination comes in.
If you hold on to a fixed object like a couch base, then twist one leg over the other and press it down to the floor with your free hand, that will affect the glute and hip muscles.
Perhaps you unconsciously stand or sit in a slightly bent-over position, which shortens the muscles and tendons of the chest. Lay face up on an exercise ball, centered under your lower back, and let your body relax. That will un-shorten those muscles.
What else can be used besides an exercise ball? Again, use your imagination. A foam roll, a sturdy laundry basket with rounded edges turned upside down, a chair cushion—-find an object that will work best for your particular body.
A little help
You can even ask for help from a friend or a trainer. Lay on your back and have your helper lift both legs upright.
If you get to the point where you can straighten your legs to a 90-degree angle, have your helper push your heels back toward your head. This will involve the glutes and hamstrings more than a standing stretch done by yourself.
The American College of Sports Medicine suggests stretching each of the major muscle groups at least two times a week, holding each stretch for at least a minute. It doesn’t have to be an everyday thing.
If you skip a few weeks, and those newly flexible muscles shorten again, just start the process over.
As times goes on, your muscles will adjust to their extra length and suppleness. You’ll find yourself moving differently, moving with more reach and less pain. You’ll even be increasing your imagination by giving it a workout as well.
Wina Sturgeon is the editor of the online magazine Adventure Sports Weekly (adventuresportsweekly.com), which offers the latest training, diet and athletic information.