Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Don't Ignore Flexibility!

One of my favorite stretches after a cardio or lowerbody strength workout -- great for hip, butt and thigh muscle groups.

In the three primary areas of fitness, flexibility is often the most overlooked aspect; I see it all the time from observing and hearing about my friends' routines, they may pump some major iron or go on uber-lengthy running/cycling sessions, but when I inquire about their warm-up/cool-downs or any flexibility-related component, more often than not I get a blank stare or a quick "that's for sissies" brush off. Oh, what a big mistake.

On the surface, stretching and flexibility exercises aren't as outwardly sexy as muscle-building strength workouts, nor does it compare to the calorie burn of a cardio session, but it definitely has its own benefits that makes it an important part of any well-rounded exercise regimen. Experts agree that it helps with:

- muscles' range of motion
- injury prevention and recovery
- reducing post-workout soreness
- stress relief

And most importantly, being flexible actually improves your ability with strength and cardio workouts, since your body is less likely to be fatigued, better able to stay in proper form and recover faster afterwards, letting you work harder and longer without setbacks such as lactic acid buildup, muscle tightness and injuries, not to mention gently setting a positive mood in preparation for, and recovering from, a session too!

Personally, I do a combination of yoga, pilates and active stretches (the last is particularly great for Type A folks too impatient to stay in one posture for an extended period of time.) Sometimes it's a simple 5-minute warmup and cooldown around my usual workout, other times it may be a 30-60 minute routine dedicated to improving flexibility, but I try to incorporate it in at least three times a week.

I may not be a human pretzel anytime soon, but I'll at least be happily finding my calm in a sun salutation instead of limping around looking for ice, pain cream or pills after a race or a game.

P.S. Of course, it should be noted that if you have already strained/pulled/injured a muscle, do check with your doctor before stretching it since that may aggravate the injury -- and when it is OK to engage that body part again, just like all other workouts, ease into it progressively and with caution rather than immediately doing the "regular" full load.


Janet said...

I like stretching very much. It is especially good after long runs or after tough strength training. When I've just started running I did not realize the importance of stretching, but after I've read a number of articles about it (some of them on militarygradenutritionals.com/blog), I decided to include it into my training regime. Not only it was great pleasure for the tired muscles, but it also helped to make my recoveries easier.