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Get to know your body with a good stretch

In this first instalment in a series of four, Newmarket athletic therapist Jen Mark highlights some easy exercises that will help ensure you don't lose your flexibility — the first aspect of fitness to deteriorate

Mobility is my favourite topic! Most people who come to seek treatment have tension and reduced range of motion. There are many ways to improve this clinically, and so many ways you can improve your ability to move at home. 

We need a series of videos to cover all the information. This first part will discuss stretching. In the next series, I will discuss using dowels, foam rollers, trigger point balls and bands to help with your mobility.

In the third instalment, I will cover dynamic warm-ups in full length, and the last instalment will give you some easy to moderate yoga series that you can do at home or in the gym. 

For this conversation, let’s talk about static stretching. This can be controversial at best. Early research indicated that static stretching will not help you become more flexible. 

Although there have been some new insights into this, I don’t think that stretching alone will have you going from being completely inflexible to being a gymnast.

However, I have seen many ways that stretching can help improve mobility. There is certainly a time and a place for static stretching, and it complements your exercise and recovery programs. 

Static stretching should be done after exercise and when you are still sweating. You are asking your muscles to become relaxed, elongated, and encourage fluid movement and drainage of waste products.

If you did this before exercise, the working muscles are not as responsive, causing stress or injury. When you are stretching, you need to be warm allowing the muscles to be pliable and easy to work with. 

My rules of stretching are simple. Make sure you are always in good posture. Rounding your back or being in an awkward position doesn’t do you any favours in the long run. Hold your stretches for at least one to two minutes. Seems like a long time, doesn’t it?

Create space for yourself to get an improvement, stretching takes time. Stretching should feel easy and not stressful, allow yourself to get a little deeper maybe within a stretching session, or over time. Don’t force the process. 

There are many benefits of stretching. You can really get to know your body by understanding what is tight and what is feeling good. Sometimes we don’t know how we are feeling until we really explore. 

Also, and this is most important for the athletes in the crowd: You cannot generate power without flexibility. If you are very tight especially through the hips or shoulders, you will struggle in power production. By increasing your flexibility, you will be able to lift more in the gym, be a better athlete, be able to pick things up off the floor, and get out of the car easier. 

In the video, I give some examples of basic stretching. You can be creative or seek out other stretches. This provides the framework. You can tweak a stretch a little here and a little there to get the right angle, make it work for you. 

I have demonstrated some uses of straps, as well. You can buy a stretching strap or use a shower towel, belt, or anything else that will help. I don’t like to use exercise bands because they don’t hold your position well enough. 

If you don’t feel much from the stretch, that’s OK. Maybe you are not that tight in that position. When we are feeling restricted, stretching is like the rehabilitation process. When we are feeling more limber, stretching is your prevention. 

Flexibility can be the first aspect of fitness to deteriorate, and the hardest to bring back. So get stretching! Don’t take flexibility for granted. 

Jen Mark is a Registered Kinesiologist, Certified Athletic Therapist, and Registered Yoga Teacher at Matrix of Motion Fitness Studios and Sports Medicine Centre of Excellence in Newmarket. Jen is currently the athletic therapist with the Markham Majors Bantams. Jen is also the head therapist and holistic director for the Junior Development Squad with the Men’s program under Field Hockey Canada. Jen uses her athletic therapy for exercise and manual treatments including soft tissue massage, joint mobilizations, and muscle energy.