In the last two articles of the Pround Body Program I gave you a general overview to help you determine where you are now with your fitness goals: gain muscle or loose weight (or both), tips on nutrition and the importance of good posture. In this issue I will elaborate on the benefits of stretching. I will be teaching you a complete program to build a Proud Body, consisting of flexibility and strength training. This series of articles will continue to be released over the next few months.
Whenever I work with a client, my goal for them is always injury prevention, over performance or physique enhancement. There is nothing wrong with body building or body sculpting if that’s what the client wants. However, I teach in a way that allows the client to achieve their goals while respecting their physical health along the way. What good is the pursuit of body building if you tear a muscle as a result of an imbalance that your trainer didn’t notice in your physical assessment? What good is a shoulder injury as a result of not stretching, taking you out of the gym, and unable to perform any number of upper body strength training movements, and possibly take you out of any sports you play?
To that end I teach that stretching has priority over strength training for the majority of the general population. To keep things easy to follow for this series I’ll teach you a number of stretches for the upper and lower body that you will do as part of your preparation prior to each workout. You may benefit from more specific stretches and variations (due to your weight, injuries, etc.) but this program is a great start. I also recommend stretching for the sake of strecthing (i.e. a dedicated session of an hour or more, not followed by a workout), which will further benefit your ability to lift with more control, have greater range of motion and the potential for greater strength and thus bigger muscles, if that’s your goal.
Warm up for 5-10 minutes, on a stationary bike or elliptical trainer, to break a light sweat. This will increase blood flow in the joints and increase body temperature making it easier to stretch. I prefer to wear long, loose-fitting pants and a warm shirt and/or even a pullover to keep my body temperature up and my joints warm for the duration of the stretch. Staying warm will especially benefit a long-duration stretch. If you have access to a warm room (like a hot yoga studio), use it. You can stretch with cold muscles, but it will take longer to get the benefits of stretching, and longer to relax into the act of stretching.
Find a quiet place to stretch. Preferably no music, and with no one else around. If your gym has a dedicated quite room for stretching, fantastic! Otherwise, if you need music, something New Age or ambiant, without vocals, is best. Even some form of meditative music will work well.
You want to focus on your breathing by inhaling and exhaling deeply and slowly to relax and focus into the stretch. When you are holding a stretch position, try to breath into the area of the stretch, the area of tightness and imagine the tension releasing as you exhale. Don’t hold your breath.
The stretching in this program consists of holding the stretch until the muscle relaxes such that you can progress into a deeper stretch, thus increasing your range of motion. How long? Ten seconds is not enough! I’m not going to prescribe an exact number but I would suggest holding each repetition in the stretch for 20-30 seconds or longer. Just do it and experience the results.
Once you have held the stretch in the first position long enough for the muscle to relax, you go on to the next rep by increasing (going deeper into) the stretch. For most of the stretches I’ve prescribed three reps. For the first rep, you should feel the stretch, but it should not be a challenge to hold it. Challenge yourself a bit more in the second rep. For the third rep go to a point of challenge. For some this may be uncomfortable and that depends on your level of flexibility.
If you challenge yourself too soon, you won’t be able to hold the stretch. Always back off slowly, never just let go of a stretch or your muscle could go into spasm. Slowly reduce the depth of the stretch and come out slowly but using other parts of your body to move.
The next sequence of article will be: an upper body stretching routine (part 4), followed by the lower body stretching routine (part 5) and then Stage 1 of the Proud Body Strength Training Program (part 6).
Need more help? Feel free to contact me for a professional consultation.
© 2012 Darren Stehle. All Rights Reserved.