Sep 10, 2013

Can you touch your toes?

Can you touch your toes?  If not, you aren’t alone!  I am amazed by how many of my friends and clients are unable to touch their toes without bending their knees.  I truly feel fortunate because martial arts has played such a significant part in my life that being flexible comes as an added benefit.  With that said however, even I have to routinely stretch and be consistent because all bodies and muscles are like rubber bands and will lose their range of motion and atrophy with inactivity.

Health and wellness professionals constantly debate the pros and cons to being flexible, the importance to stretching, and how to most effectively stretch.  I am not referring to being as malleable as Gumby or a contortionist, but rather having the ability to smoothly move one’s body in all degrees of motion pain free.   I personally believe, if done correctly, that the benefits such as helping avoid injury, reducing muscle soreness, increasing blood flow in the circulatory system, releasing tension, and improving coordination and balance outweigh the risk of not having a wide range of motion.  Plus….do your really want to be the guy or girl who looks like Frankenstein while trying to touch your toes?  

Now on to the touchy subject (pun intended).  Here is how we are going to touch those toes even if they look like they are a galaxy far far away, just a distant planet, only a breath away, or maybe you already have the ability to touch them.  But can you touch your nose to your knees? Remember, no matter where your flexibility level stands, stretching should be therapeutic and beneficial, not causing injury or prolonged pain.  All forms of stretching may not be very comfortable, but caution…..overdoing it or putting yourself in true pain is not the goal!  We want to make positive strides forward, not backwards.  As the saying goes, “If it hurts…STOP!” and back off.  Listen to your body so you don’t tear or strain anything.  One should push yourself slightly past your comfort zone and be able to breath comfortably.  Truth is, progress will only come if one pushes beyond his or her comfort zone. 

Most fitness professionals and experts agree that there are many ways, techniques, and types of stretching.  Some basic types are:

Static-Passively holding a stretch at it’s maximum length or farthest point for a controlled period of time.  I use this style at the end of my workouts and hold each stretch for 30-45 seconds or 10 deep breaths before moving on to another stretch. 

Ballistic-Uses momentum of moving one’s body or limbs in an attempt to force it beyond it’s natural range.

Dynamic-Controlled swing that takes you gently through a range but does not bounce or jerk the muscle. 

Active-Assumes a stretch and holds it with the strength of that muscle.

Passive-Also known as relaxed, is holding a stretch with assistance of another part of your body or with a partner. 

Isometric-Doesn’t use motion, and stretches through muscle contractions, many believe this is more effective than either passive or active. 

PNF– Known as the most effective way to increase flexibility and is an acronym for (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation).  Basically, it is a combination of passive and isometric stretching.  Usually requires a partner for the most effect and refers to any muscle group that is passively stretched, then contracts isometrically against resistance while in the stretched position.  I use these in class settings or with a workout partner. 

Because most of us don’t have the extra time or a partner readily available to assist us, making a routine that is quick and easy enough to become part of your lifestyle is my goal.  Four constants to this routine are warming up before stretching (i.e. doing jumping jacks for 30 seconds), holding each stretch for 30-45 seconds or 10 deep breaths, remembering to back off if it begins to hurt, and finally and most importantly, make it a priority to be consistent and not skip a day!

Here is your challenge! Try this 2 minute routine everyday right after waking, before bed and or in the shower.  Three opportune times during the day that I am sure you have control over and do everyday.  Start with these four points, holding them all for 30-45 seconds and remember to breath.

1.     While standing or sitting; tuck your chin to your chest by lightly pulling from the top of your head (feeling a slight burn in the upper back and or nape of the neck). 

2.     With an arched back (Cow position in Yoga) while standing or sitting, lean forward to the farthest point while reaching for your toes. 

3.     Bend your knees, grab the bottom of your feet or your toes, and slowly extend your legs by standing or scooting out until you feel a deep hamstring stretch.  Eventually in time, being able to extend your legs fully to a locked and straight position without any bend in one’s legs.  

4.     Repeat #2 one more time. 

Too easy or not long enough?  I challenge you to make this a priority and part of your daily routine.  I know it seems too simple but believe me it is more than effective.  The more often you practice and apply this routine and or the more stretches you incorporate and the longer you hold them, the quicker you will reach (pun intended) your goal.  Whether your goal is to not look like Yoda, to be able to kick higher, or even pick up the loose change off the floor, it is time to become more flexible.  Stretch to it and Attack!