I remember back in high school when I could do pancake splits…you know the splits where you lay face-down flat on the ground. I was super-flexible! Woot! Fast-forward a “few” years. Last weekend, I bent to get the taco shells off the bottom shelf on the pantry, and I was pretty certain I pulled a hammy. Errr, that was NOT supposed to happen.
Seriously, how does one injure oneself prepping for tacos??!!
I’ll tell you how:
Adding a few years to the clock and not making a habit of stretching.
Especially for athletes, the benefits of stretching and focusing on mobility and flexibility are monumental. While both are very important, mobility and flexibility are NOT one and the same. First, let’s take a look at the difference between the two. In simple terms:
Flexibility is all about the length of a muscle.
Mobility is all about how a joint moves.
With that said, picture the ankle as an example. If an individual is experiencing restriction of movement due to a mobility issue, stretching and lengthening the calf muscle won’t help that particular issue. For those of us who have been around Cerberus, we know mobility issues require mobility work—motion and movement specifically designed to increase mobility in a particular area.
Back to the stretching, however. Why stretch? Aside from the fact that after a particularly grueling WOD, your muscles want to curl themselves into the fetal position because of what you just put them through, you’ll find that stretching is beneficial for several reasons:
- It decreases your risk of injury. Stretching helps your muscles recover from workouts, reduces soreness, and helps to get a better nutrient supply to your muscles.
- It gives you an energy boost. Did you know your muscles tighten when you get tired? Yep, during that mid-afternoon slump in your office, not only are your eyes getting droopy, but your muscles are tensing up, too. A mid-afternoon stretch can perk you up and revitalize you for the rest of the day.
- It helps with circulation. This is a big one, because not only does this help with soreness, it also helps with cell growth and organ function. As an added bonus, your heart won’t have to work so hard, so you’ll likely lower your blood pressure, too.
- It improves your WOD performance. If you begin a WOD with super-tight muscles, they’re going to be less effective. However, stretching before and after workouts will help your body be more flexible, help loosen contracted muscles, and boost your performance.
- It helps your posture. Ever find yourself slumping over your desk midway through the day? No matter how your posture looks, just about everyone could use a little straightening up, and stretching will help you keep your spine in alignment, as well as relieve the aches that often make us want to slump in the first place.
- It just feels good. Stretching really does brighten your outlook and decrease stress. Tension buildup can have a negative effect on your body, and stretching can not only relax you, but also make you feel tranquil enough to easily doze off at bedtime.
Flexibility can certainly help us—both throughout the day and during our workouts—but how do we hold onto it, and even improve it, especially if we’ve started to feel the tightening of our muscles with age? Yep, our bodies naturally tend to lose flexibility as we age, but does that mean we have to just sit back and take it? No way!
Here’s what happens. While I wouldn’t say I’m old, middle age is looking back at me from the mirror, and when that happens, we start to lose some of our collagen structure, a protein found in our connective tissue. Collagen also starts to stick together, which makes our muscles have less range of motion. Plus, let’s face it, our posture may not be that great, which affects the body’s overall alignment, adding to limited flexibility. Finally, add to all this a tendency to be less active, and it’s a perfect storm for a lack of flexibility.
So What Do You Do?
It’s pretty easy, really. Combat inflexibility with movement and consistent stretching exercises that target key muscle groups and keep them supple and functioning properly. Stretch before your WOD, after, and even on rest days. It’s easy to let it go by the wayside, but I for one don’t want to be the old lady who can’t tie her own shoe laces!
Time to STRETCH!