I regularly get asked “What are the best stretches?”
Believe it or not there is no robust evidence that stretching prevents injury so why would we need to stretch at all?
The common misconception is that muscles are like elastic bands and that they stretch. Unfortunately this is not the case. Muscles are more like chains with links and the links slide over and back on each other and that’s how a muscle gets longer or shorter.
If a muscle is held in a shortened position for prolonged periods of time such as sitting down the majority of the day, then two things will happen. 1. The links you have will overlap and “stick together” and 2. The body will register that you are not using those links very much at all so when it comes to regeneration, the body will decide to put that protein to better use elsewhere and you will lose links in the chain getting a tighter or shorter muscle.
Stretching helps to lubricate the links we already have and that’s why we feel a bit looser after a stretch but it doesn’t in itself make your muscles any longer. It’s only with repetitive stretching (every couple of hours) that we give the body the stimulus to grow more links in the chain and get us back to our genetically pre-determined flexibility. How many links in the chain you can have is largely down to your genetics. That’s why some people can go to yoga classes forever and never touch their toes and others never go at all and will always be able to touch their toes. Most of us are somewhere between the two in that we can touch our toes but only if we keep trying.
If a muscle has shortened due to lifestyle issues then it is important to try to restore that muscle back to it’s optimum state with some targeted stretching of the appropriate structures. It can take up to 2 months to achieve this and that’s with dedicated and specific stretching to that muscle on an hourly basis.
Keeping muscles moving regularly throughout the day by changing postures, going for walks, doing a variety of movements that ask questions of various parts of your body is the way to keep things agile. It’s a classic case of use it or lose it.
I’ve put together a collection of 20 stretches which target the main muscle groups. If you wanted to go through all of these it would probably take about 20 minutes however you might find that some don’t give you a sense of stretching and others are quite the opposite. Consider having a go at each one to see if there are any obvious discrepancies between sides and then target those muscles for a few weeks.
None of these should be painful other than the burn you feel from doing a stretch and that in itself should go away once you’ve done the stretch. Needless to say these exercises are not a prescription so if you’re unsure if you should be doing any of these come and see us first.
The last year has made us generally stiffer than usual as we haven’t had the variety of activities to get us out and about and doing different things. Despite being diligent with exercise in lockdown most of us have had longer periods of being static which will contribute to muscles shortening. So even if you don’t stretch regularly do at least move more frequently as it helps to lubricate those links. Embrace doing jobs around the house as it’s all movement and it all helps. Hanging up the washing and loading the dishwasher won’t qualify as a workout but it’s better for you than you might have thought!!