Read my review of Hyperbolic Stretching here
The human body is designed to be flexible.
The human body needs to be flexible in order to survive the conditions on planet earth, our home. There are so many different movements that require a degree of flexibility to perform.
Simply bending down to pick something up off the floor requires flexible muscles. When you get into sports and other dynamic movements, then flexibility becomes even more important.
In modern day life, and due to specialization, our bodies do not always move through their full range of motion. Sitting at a desk every day for may hours can cause muscles to tighten and flexibility to reduce.
Not only desk jobs cause this but driving, manufacturing, maintaining equipment all do as well. If you sit or stand in the same position all day, then you are likely to develop stiffness.
Stretching is natural
If you think about how humans used to live, we were much more active in many ways than we are today.
As hunters humans would be getting into all kinds of positions to catch their prey. Perhaps chasing something through a forest or stalking in long grass. Their bodies would be constantly doing something.
As gatherers, reaching up to pick fruits or berries, climbing trees, crossing ravines. You get the picture. We don’t do so much of that today.
How to maintain flexibility today
Although I’ve already said that historic humans had more opportunities to organically develop and maintain their flexibility, it’s not entirely necessary to have full-body, total flexibility at all times.
For example, unless you are a ballet dancer or a martial artist, you might never have a need to perform the full splits. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore those muscles completely and let them become super stiff either.
Ideally, one should stretch the whole body regularly. Everything from the neck and jaw muscles all the way down to the toes can be stretched through a range of motion.
While all the muscles should get some stretching, only some of them should get extra special attention. These are the ones that you use for your sport, work or activity that you do on a regular basis and requires certain movements to do them well.
Let me give you a couple of examples. A javelin thrower would want to stretch the pectoral muscle on their throwing arm side, to get a really good load on the javelin as they wind up for the throw. They would give this muscle special attention.
Conversely, a hurdler has very much less of a need for a flexible pectoral muscle, but their leading leg hamstring needs to be nice and loose.
Stretching has long been used as a means to warm up the body and muscles before going into high performance mode. Coaches tend to advise an optimal preparation time of ten minutes for the warm-up, including all stretching. Going over this time can start to impede performance.
6 Advantages of Stretching
- Range of motion improvement
Let’s say you want to improve your golf swing. You would like to lift the club to its full extension before beginning the swing, and after contacting the ball you would like to be able to follow through all the way. If your upper body is too stiff, then this will not be possible. You would need to stretch your deltoids, latissimus dorsi, obliques and spinal erectors. Once these are flexible enough, you will be able to tee off like Tiger Woods!
- Perform at a higher skill level
If you are able to tee off like Tiger Woods then you are performing at a higher level of skill than the average golfer. This goes for any sport or activity. You will also be able to partake in more sports or activities and enjoy them as you complete their intention. For example you will not be “too stiff” for an impromptu game of volleyball on the beach. Or if you want to do some rock climbing, you can reach those higher holds.
- Protection from injury
If you ever have to make a sudden, dynamic movement, stiff muscles will tear much more readily than nice supple flexible ones. Muscle tears can take a long time to recover and depending on the severity of the tear, leave the muscle permanently weakened. Flexibility in the body offers a significant buffer of protection against such torn muscles.
- Deeper relaxation
Stretching can and does relieve tension being held within the tissue of the muscular structure. As this tension is greatly lessened, any type of relaxation can be more quickly achieved and deeper levels reached. In many yoga routines, the final position is one known as “savasana”. This is done after going through all the yoga stretches. The pose is simply laying on your back and relaxing as deeply as possible. It is often called the most challenging pose as total relaxation can be elusive. It is made easier by the stretching done beforehand.
- Increased confidence in abilities
As you progress in your flexibility, you become aware that you are able to perform techniques that you previously thought were too advanced for your current level. Your added confidence comes from the fact that you know you are much less likely to injure yourself with a muscle tear or sprain when you push yourself further and harder. The confidence boost you get from this can carry over into other areas of your life.
- Healthy blood vessels
As long as you have a fairly healthy diet and lifestyle, it has been shown that regular stretching helps against hardening of the arteries. Stretching can also help to maintain a healthy blood flow and circulation throughout the musculo-skeletal system. Some research shows that cholesterol can be reduced from stretching routines. The knock-on effects of health are quite great. From healthier brain function to reduced risk of heart disease, maybe those ancient yogis were on to something after all.
It would be wise to include stretching in your daily routine. Some people even make it an integral part of their lifestyle, with great beneficial results. These benefits are like an offer you can’t refuse. If you are able to blend in stretching moves to your general movements during the day, then you might need to dedicate very little time to doing it directly. Stretching can actually feel very good when done correctly so it can be an activity to look forward to.