I get a massage about once a month because as an ex-athlete and a person constantly on my feet, at 39 my body just doesn’t recover the way it used to “back in the day.”
In speaking with my massage therapist, Jackie, we often discuss how most people neglect to care for themselves by not stretching their bodies, (I am certainly guilty at times) or who let their bodies deteriorate by not exercising. But stretching, while admittedly a somewhat time consuming activity, is such an easy way to avoid pain, injury, poor posture and fatigue. Plus, it’s free and can be done almost anywhere.
The body should be warm before it is stretched, and stretching a cold body can do more harm than good. If you would like to start your day with a few stretches but can’t get out and run or bike or walk, try taking a hot shower first or at least walk around your house or up and down the stairs for a few minutes to get the blood flowing.
Morning stretching is a great way to start the day, be it at home or at the local gym or yoga class. The more you stretch, the more the toxins that store up in your body are released. The tighter the muscles get the more tension we feel which can lead to pain, headaches, poor mood swings and even depression and weight gain.
Most of us try to drown out our tensions, our problems, our pain and soreness through negative outlets like medication, alcohol or over-indulging eating habits to make us feel better. But they only hide the problem.
My massage sessions are a way to enhance my stretching and to soothe my body after workouts. They are not designed to replace a lack of stretching.
One of the best runners I was lucky enough to coach was a notorious non-stretcher. She prided herself on the fact that she didn’t stretch. But at the United States Junior National Track & Field Championships, in her last high school race of her career, she was forced to drop-out of the 1500m run final (while leading the race with just 500-meters remaining) due to a strained calf.
She had multiple issues on and off throughout the year, and her calf strain seemed to come out of nowhere after months of healthy running. But as the trainers examined her as tears poured down her cheeks, it was determined that her calf strain, and earlier hamstring and quad strains where the result of her hips having slipped out of alignment due to extremely tight back, hip and hamstring muscles and tendons.
You can bet your butt that she stretches now.
Youthful bodies can overcome and adapt, but what about the rest of us? Try touching your toes. How far down did your fingers get?
If you can’t touch your toes, or at least get to the tongue of your shoes than you most likely have extremely tight hamstring muscles, and weak and tight lower back muscles. This can lead to injury and poor balance, which could lead to falls and balance issues. Not to mention lower back pain.
If you fail the toe touch test, work on it every day for a week and see how much progress you can make. You will be amazed at how much better you feel.
Bend at the waist and relax your shoulders and hands and just let them hang without rounding your back and shoulders. Gently reach down until you feel discomfort and hold there for 20-30 seconds.
Repeat this three to four times each day for a week and make sure to note how close your fingers are getting to those toes. Good luck and good stretching.