Importance of stretching: for your body and wellbeing
I can’t imagine a day where I didn’t stretch; it’s a natural daily ritual for me. Coming from a dance background, stretching was part of the job. It felt good, increased my flexibility and increased my range of motion, which is particularly important for a dancer. Stretching prepped my muscles pre-class, audition or performance and helped my body to recover post.
However you don’t need to have a dance history to get involved. Everybody can benefit from stretching, whether you are an athlete or an office worker. Don’t be put off by the well limbered instructors who can demonstrate advanced postures; we don’t mean to discourage you!
Everybody is different and we are here to help you loosen up and find the confidence to stretch.
Here’s a little information to inspire you:
- Helps to improve flexibility and increases your range of motion
- Improves muscle balance and performance
- Speeds up recovery post workout
- Assists in correcting posture - lengthens tight muscles
- Helps to avoid injury
- Increase blood and nutrient supply to muscles, helps to reduce muscle soreness
- Calms the mind, gives you a mental break and helps to refocus
- Relaxes the body and mind, meditation element
- Breathing - fuels the body, helps to relax the muscles
How to stretch
There are several ways to stretch that can bring you body back into balance. Depending on which muscles you want to focus on, there are several exercises and props to assist you. Here are some tips:
Take your time
Ease into a stretch or onto a foam roller. You should feel the muscles lengthen, but it shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Don’t rush and apply enough pressure to get a good stretch or release. If you are using a prop such as a foam roller, move at an inch per second and build up to moving in multiple directions. Eventually you will feel the muscles release. Slowing down your breath pattern will help keep it smooth and aid relaxation as you stretch and massage out any tension.
Don’t tie yourself in knots
When stretching you need to be gentle and don’t force anything. Remember what is right for some, may not be right for you. Focus on how it feels and not what it looks like.
Focus on one area
Instead of trying to stretch the whole body, focus on a key area. Linger where it feels good to linger and pause for a few seconds over a tight spot.
Common tight spots
The calf muscles are a common tight spot and an important area to stretch out. The gastrocnemius is the larger calf muscle and the soleus is smaller and flatter than lies underneath the gastrocnemius. They can get tight from running, increased cardio sessions, high heels, flat shoes or biomechanical problems of the foot.
An easy way to stretch is by simply using a step. Release by dropping your heels off the edge. Try one heel at a time then ease both heels off. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Alternatively you can push against a wall stepping one leg back and shifting weight onto your front leg, bending at the knee. Feel the back heel reach towards the floor for a great release. Hold for 20-30 seconds then repeat on the other side.
The hamstrings are a group of three muscles that are responsible for extension of the thigh and flexion of the knee. When the hamstrings are tight it becomes very difficult to touch your toes from standing or sitting. This tightness can have consequences elsewhere in the body and tight hamstrings can lead to lower back tension. Try using a chair, table or barre to rest one leg against with your foot on the chair, table or ankle hooked over the barre. Take an easy spiral twist to lengthen spine (opposite arm to outside knee/thigh) release centre and fully extend your leg as you hop back or push away. Start to rest your head, neck and shoulders down as you fold over and arms reach towards your foot. Take a few deep breaths in this position. Easy inhale and exhale to aid this stretch. Try using your exhale breath to slowly increase the stretch as your chest lowers to thigh. Hold for 20-30 seconds then slowly unfold and repeat on the other leg.
If you are keen to introduce more flexibility into your life then seek out a flexibility focused class, such as yoga or Pilates.
Why not learn to touch your toes with me? I teach monthly London Pop Ups which are designed to introduce you to my signature moves and choreography. LDM Stretch combines both yoga and Pilates, leaves you feeling uplifted, relaxed and a couple of inches taller!
Model/Talent - Louisa Drake Method (LDM) (www.louisadrake.com)
Photographer - Oly Barnsley (www.olybarnsley.com)