Stretching makes us feel better

By CAROLYN EVAN-WATKINS [email protected]

Carolyn Evan-Watkins is a sports, fitness and Pilates instructor with more than 15 years experience. She is a lecturer, teaching and assessing instructors in health and fitness. Carolyn has also been a Government advisor, and still writes and presents her own courses within this field. She moved to the Algarve last year and teaches Pilates classes in Vale do Lobo and Boliqueime.

Not only is stretching extremely good for our bodies, but it makes us look and feel better.

Many of us have not been exercising as much over the Christmas and New Year period, and really feel the difference as our muscles are tight and our bodies are stiff.

Lots of people don’t realise just how important it is to stretch every day.  Stretching is one way to keep the body flexible, especially the muscles that are tight because of bad posture.  As you become more flexible, you will find certain tasks easier.    

Stretching is usually one of the fitness activities that people forget about when exercising, but it’s a very important one and, for lots of us, the best part of the workout. How many people who go to a gym or exercise class, go for a walk or after a round of golf actually spend time stretching?

When we exercise, we contract our muscles, which make them shorter.  When we stretch, we bring our muscles back to a good working length.

Stretching should be done everyday, but honestly how many actually do this?  

When you start a flexibility and stretching routine, begin slowly and increase gradually.  

You can, at any age, increase and improve on your flexibility – age is no barrier.  To make sure we increase and maintain our flexibility, we should be stretching our major muscle groups daily.  These can include your arms, legs (thighs and calves), back, shoulders, chest…

Within my stretching routine, I usually perform stretches for approximately 13 major muscle groups – hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, hip flexors, obliques, erector spinae, abdominals, lats, deltoids, rhomboids, triceps, biceps, pectorals – but this will depend on the activities that have been carried out.

It is always best to stretch when the muscles are warm.  Think of your muscles as elastic bands. If you stretch a band when it is too cold, it will ‘snap’.  So make sure you have done some activity and warmed up before you start to stretch.  

There are many different ways to stretch, but the safest and most comfortable is to do what we call static stretches.  These stretches involve slowly and gently easing into the stretch position and holding this position.  

The length of time you can hold the stretch will depend on the individual, and also on whether you want to maintain the muscle, or develop the muscle in order to improve mobility.  Maintenance stretches can be held for approximately 10 seconds, while developmental stretches can be held for between 15 and 30 seconds.

A stretching routine can leave you feeling calm, comfortable and peaceful, while at the same time giving you renewed energy.  If you’re not already converted to the benefits of stretching, now’s the time to give it a go.

Carolyn can be contacted via email at [email protected]