If the prospect of touching your toes fills you with dread, you should know that you are in a bit of a trouble. Stretching may not be the most exciting part of a workout but it is crucial if you want to make the most of your fitness and workout routines. Regardless of whether you are aiming for cardio or strength training, stretching is where you should begin.
Like all trainers Ashok Maharjan too makes it a point to guide his new clients through various stretching exercises both before and after the workout sessions are over. “There is no reason to beat around the bush on this requirement,” he says, “improving your stretching is compulsory for all gym goers.” Here, with The Week, he shares the reasons why and how you can go about building your stretching ability. Why should we focus on improving our stretching?
According to Maharjan, it’s obvious. “When you stretch before you start your workout, you can genuinely feel the difference. Without stretching, you won’t feel as much power and fluidity in your movements,” he says.
Besides, as we age, our muscles are known to get shorter and less elastic so we need to actively work towards maintaining its length and abilities.
Then there is the safety aspect. Tight muscles can cause strain even when you are going about your daily activities. It’s the reason why trainers like Maharajan emphasize on reducing that tightness. One can only imagine the damage workouts without stretching can cause.
Maharjan reveals that he personally likes to begin by incorporating stretching in the warm ups as well as later at the end when you are trying to cool down. During the latter stretching, he says, he likes to focus on stretching the parts that they have worked on that day. This decreases muscle soreness after workouts.
Besides making your workouts more efficient and safe, stretching can also aid weight loss. “For this you can practice stretching exercises for a good half an hour or so rather than just the couple of minutes while warming up,” says Maharjan.
How can you improve your stretching?
“The biggest mistake you can make here is force yourself to stretch more than your abilities,” says Maharjan. So those not looking forward to the pain can definitely breathe a sigh of relief because Maharjan urges you to stick to your limits.
Despite what you may have heard, you can’t improve your stretching tolerance by stretching till it hurts. In fact, this might actually backfire and restrict your progress. You need to take it slow and steady. This is helps you avoid unnecessary injury risks.
Improving your flexibility and stretching ability happens gradually so don’t push yourself too much but also remember that each day counts. This is very important. Since stretching can be uncomfortable and it takes time to be good at it, many eventually tend to not put in as much effort but that’s certainly not the way to go.
Maharjan says he likes to guide his new clients through the various stretching routines until they get used to it. This is because you can divide the stretching exercises to various stages. As Maharjan put it, “For instance, when we begin, I like to start with easier stretches, ones that we call static stretching. There aren’t many movements involved in static stretching. Here you simply stretch a muscle to the point of tension and hold that position for at least 30 seconds.”
Those trying heavy lifts or squats are recommended to try dynamic stretching. The difference here is that you stretch while you are moving. You are not required to hold the stretch. It’s a great addition to your warm up routine.
There’s another very important point. It is best if you upgrade your stretching routine as you master some of the old positions. Once you start feeling comfortable with a stretching position, you can add some movement to it or change the position all together to make the most out of your stretching routine. Consult your trainer before you begin to make sure you are doing it right. After all, our motive is to improve our range of motion, not strain our muscles unnecessarily, which is exactly what you might end up doing if you don’t know how to go about it.
Things to remember
You might want to start by determining what’s holding you back. For example, if you can’t touch your toes, you may automatically assume that your hamstrings aren’t flexible enough. However, this isn’t always the case. There are a few other things like low back, glutes, etc. that may be stopping you from performing the act.
If you can figure out your trouble spots from the get go, you can design your stretching routine accordingly. Many trainers tend to put their clients through a series of various stretching positions to assess the flexibility of their whole body as well as identify the trouble spots that need to be worked on.
Again, we can’t stress enough on the importance of putting aside some time for stretching exercises. Maharjan says, he personally likes to go through all routines that cover all parts of the body, from the neck, waist to the toes. “Giving this kind of specific attention to stretching will be fruitful in the long run, and will ensure you get the maximum results from your workouts,” he concludes.