Monthly Theme: Flexibility
June’s theme is flexibility. The high volumes of activity in June will add tension to the body – often in the wrong places. Joint irritation from overuse and repetitious movements like running and cycling can make your flexibility even worse.
Poor flexibility can lead to increased tension in tendons, which leads to less blood flow, which can lead to poor healing of tissues, which leads to injury. Poor flexibility also affects your posture, which can cause pain and muscle fatigue over time. When your joints lack flexibility, the body has to compensate for those inflexibilities by overusing other joints and changing the way that it moves – this often creates pain in other joints for seemingly no reason. Whenever something starts to hurt and you don’t know why, take a look at the neighboring joints and you may find the cause!
Flexibility becomes exceedingly important as we age; tasks that seemed simple when you were 50 can quickly become difficult at 70. Maintaining a component of your fitness is always easier then improving it. “Use it or lose it” is a good rule of thumb for every person as they age.
Notes for all stretches:
Stretches for healthy joints should typically be done at least 3 times per day to get improvements, and at least 2 times per week for maintenance. Passive stretches should be done after exercise or when the body is warm, and held for 30-60 seconds at a time. Before exercise, it is better to use active versions of these stretches where you use exercises that naturally stretch these joints while warming up the nerves and muscles at the same time.
The hip flexors are a group of muscles in the front of the hip. They become tight with endurance types of activities like running, biking, or rowing and they also become tight with sitting. Almost everyone would benefit from stretching his or her hip flexors more often.
When the hip flexors are tight, it puts more compression and torsion through the low back and pelvis while also putting more strain on the lower extremities making injury to the knees, ankles and feet also more likely.
How to do the stretch:
With one knee down and directly underneath you, turn your hips back like you are trying to pour water out the back of your pelvis. This should create enough of a stretch for you; if not, you can lunge your hips slightly forward. If you have to lunge far forward, you aren’t using your tummy enough!
Where to feel the stretch:
In the front of your pelvis and upper thigh.
Ankle Extension (Calf/ Achilles Stretch):
Proper ankle extension is essential to maintaining proper form for walking, running and squatting activities. When they are tight (they are tight very often), it puts additional stress on the foot, knee, hip and pelvis. Stretching the ankles into extension is a key treatment for many foot and ankle problems, the most common of which is plantar fasciitis. Proper ankle flexibility can also allow the foot to sit more naturally on the ground and allow for better balance and coordination for sports.
How to do the stretch:
Place your foot onto a ramped surface and then move the knee toward the toe. Do not let the knee move to the inside or outside, keep it in line, and be sure the arch of the foot does not collapse. Do the stretch with a bent knee sometimes and with a straight knee sometimes. This stretch may need to be performed more than other stretches in order to get results, as the ankle can be very stubborn to improvements.
Where to feel the stretch
Deep inside the ankle and in the back of the lower leg.
Shoulder flexion is basically reaching the arms over the head. Loss of shoulder flexion comes primarily from poor posture and not actually doing the motion enough. Tight chest and back muscles make it even more difficult to do proper shoulder flexion.
The result of poor shoulder flexion is overuse of the neck, back and shoulder joint – which causes painful syndromes in each of these body parts. It also makes doing overhead tasks at home very tiring; changing a light bulb or building some shelves at home can all of a sudden become an embarrassing activity to perform if you don’t keep up your shoulder flexibility!
How to do the stretch
Point the thumb up in the hitch hiking position, keep the arm perfectly straight, and raise the arm straight in front of you and over your head. Use a doorway if you are standing or use a chair or Swiss ball in front of you if you are kneeling and add passive overpressure to push the arm back over your head. Keep your tummy tight so you don’t just bend back in your back instead of the shoulder.
Where to feel the stretch
Different people will feel this stretch in different places, but in general you will feel stretching deep in the shoulder, in the chest, and also in latissimus muscles.