Stand up. Bend forward. Touch your toes. Can’t quite make it? The comforting news is most people can’t. The bad news is that’s not a good sign. The ability to touch your toes is a measure of your flexibility. Not being able to do so means you have some work ahead of you. Fortunately, the work isn’t that hard and won’t take too long. All you have to do is stretch.
Stretching is the most commonly ignored aspect of exercise. It’s easy to skip, because it doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re working out. You’re just standing in one position or raising and lowering yourself in and out of one position; so really, are you accomplishing that much? Does it honestly matter if you forgo stretching in favor of longer cardio, more strength training or complete exhaustion? Yes. Stretching is more than a warm-up or cool-down. It improves not only your exercise ability but your daily life as well. If you stretch properly, you’ll improve your flexibility, making bending, kneeling and lifting considerably easier. You will improve the range of motion in your joints, lessening your likelihood of falling and your likelihood of getting hurt if you do fall. You will loosen tight muscles, relieve tension and improve your circulation, all of which add up to better health. But what exactly is proper stretching?
It starts with every day and ends with . . . every day. Stretching should be a part of your daily routine, regardless of whether or not exercise is. However, the same stretches do not coincide with the same activity. If you are about to exercise, you want to do dynamic stretches. These involve moving a specific muscle in and out of a stretched position and will improve your active flexibility. Examples include calf raises, side bends, toe touches and trunk rotations. If you aren’t about to heavily exert yourself, you want to do static stretches. These are the basic stretches, the ones that immediately pop into your head. They require you to lean forward or shift part of your body until you feel tension, then hold the position for 30 to 60 seconds. They are the stretches that are going to make getting through the day easier and, thus, are the ones you want to do regularly.
If you don’t think you have time to stretch think again. Even two minutes at your desk in the afternoon can be enough to give your muscles a workout and your brain a break, increasing flexibility and decreasing stress. So, stretch. Get out of your chair for a minute or reach your legs out in front of you and point your toes. Start working stretching into your schedule. Before you know it you’ll be bending in ways you never imagined, or at least you’ll be kneeling down without moaning.
For a little help rectifying the embarrassing toe-touch, check out this foolproof, four-step guide to improving your flexibility and reuniting with your feet.�