This really depends on how long you’d like to prolong your fitness and mobility for. If your “why” for keeping fit is motivated by the need to look like a beach buff on that holiday you have planned next summer, then chances are, a focused stretching routine will make sporadic appearances. On the flip-side, if your fitness and mobility is an important piece of your lifestyle puzzle, then it’s time to accept stretching as the all-important final piece. Think of how a car might perform on a cold morning if the engine hasn’t been allowed to warm up for a few minutes. Yes, the vehicle will probably drive; but to the tune of a very sluggish and somewhat unpleasant ride, leading to its premature decline. If you’ve concluded that your body is no different, then give yourself full marks. You need to realise and accept that it is not enough to build muscle and develop aerobic fitness. You need to think about flexibility too and stretching can help. By definition, it is the deliberate lengthening of muscles in order to increase muscle flexibility and joint range of motion. It is easy to think of stretching as something performed only by gymnasts, runners and ballet dancers when visualising it (unless of course, you are one of the aforementioned), but the truth is we all need to stretch in order to maintain our mobility and independence. It must happen on a daily basis in order to keep the muscles flexible, strong and healthy and prevent them from shortening and becoming tight. The long-term risks include joint pain, strains, stiffness and muscle damage. Especially if called upon for strenuous activities that stretches them.
The idea of daily stretching may seem overwhelming, even for the physically fit and active, however, according to David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, you don’t have to stretch every muscle you have. Focus on the areas vital for mobility in your lower body, such as your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors in the pelvis and quadraceps in the front of your thighs. Stretching, flexing and rotating your shoulders, neck and lower back is also beneficial. The proper way to execute a stretch is to hold the position for about 30 seconds. Try not to bounce as this can cause injury. Whilst stretching you’ll feel tension, but you shouldn’t feel pain. If you do, then you may have some sort of injury, so stop and consult your doctor immediately. It is also vital to know that growing research has shown that stretching the muscles before they’re warmed up can also do damage. This is because when everything is cold, the muscle fibres aren’t prepared and may be damaged. We highly recommend warming up the muscles first before stretching, by doing five to ten minutes of light activity, such as jogging or brisk walking in order to get blood flowing into the area. This should make the tissue more robust and adaptable to change.