It’s a stretch

Photo by lululemon athletica

Photo by lululemon athletica

“If you put yourself in a position where you have to stretch outside your comfort zone, then you are forced to expand your consciousness.”

— Les Brown

Actually, a physical stretch of your limbs should stay within your comfort zone. Going for the burn is not what you want to do when stretching your muscles to improve your flexibility. And contorting yourself like a Cirque de Soleil performer won’t expand your mind, either.

There are right and wrong ways to stretch. According to the American Academy of Sports Medicine, each stretch should be held for ten to 30 seconds, just “to the point of tightness or slight discomfort,” to repeat two to four times. Stretching to the point of pain (beyond that comfort zone) can lead to muscle or ligament tears or even dislocation.

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The experts say flexibility exercises are more effective when the muscles are warm, so that pre-run stretch may not be a good thing, contrary to popular belief. It may decrease performance and even lead to injury, because a muscle that’s too stretched out lacks power and has to work harder, which can strain it.

Before vigorous aerobic activity, warm up the muscles by moving slowly, a walk or slow amble on the bike, even a warm bath or shower, and save the stretching for afterwards when the body is sufficiently warmed up.

The goals of good cardiovascular health and calorie burning aren’t the only things to strive for when seeking ways to get your body fit. A limber and flexible frame goes a long way towards a fit body, especially for those of us who may be aging. The human body loses flexibility as it gets older and we have to work harder to maintain it. An increasingly sedentary lifestyle for all of us — all that screen time — doesn’t help. The American Academy of Sports Medicine recommends flexibility exercises at least two or three times a week to maintain and improve range of motion of the limbs. Doing them every day may be even better.

Double-jointedness is not really double joints. More accurately called hypermobility or joint hyperlaxity, it affects three per cent of us and can be due to the shape of the bones, shallow joint sockets, weak collagen in the ligaments and/or hypotonic muscle tone. Contortionists usually expand on their genetic hyperlaxity and train themselves to tie their bodies in knots. Although the condition is a good one for gymnasts and some musicians to have, it can be the source of joint pain and increased susceptibility to dislocations, bone breaks and muscle and ligament strains and sprains.

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