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To Stretch or not to Stretch?

In chronically tense patients with pain and inflexibility in the joints, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that stretching the body is the necessary course of action. In my 10 plus years of working as bodyworker and yoga teacher I have not found this to be the case. People with low muscle tone tend to have chronically painful joins due to weakness, rather than lack of flexibility. In fact I have found that once the client begins to strengthen the muscles of say shoulder, core or hip girdle, the joints "open up" and naturally increase the capacity for a wider range of motion. While it is true that being sedentary naturally leads to contracture, I have found that the muscles are very reluctant to open unless movement is introduced into the lifestyle first. If you are in a position that requires hours of daily sitting, therefore, I would advise that you reach for the weight before the yoga mat. Doing a few vertical press-ups a day will do more for the chronically tight scapula muscles than attempting to stretch the joint into feeling better. A few dozen squats a day will allow the hips to realign. Once there is a foundation of movement in the muscle memory, stretching can enter the picture.

The key here seems to be that muscles need to reach a certain level of development before the joint is in position where range of motion is optimized. Aside from adding more padding between the bones, the added strength allows your body to feel safe in space and become more confident in the movement. It is necessary for antagonist groups to be equally strong in the limbs in order to obtain best results. For example if you have a chronic pinching sensation in the hip crease, it it likely from imbalanced muscle development through out the pelvis. Right to left and front to back imbalances are common, especially due to driving. People who spend lots of time commuting or drive long distance, have an over developed right hip and core region. The left side becomes more of a stabilizer and has significantly more flexibility to accommodate the mechanical movement of the right side. This is ok if you only want to drive a car, but when you start running or biking, that is when such a pattern becomes a problem. Since the dominant muscle memory is that of driving, the left and rights sides continue to engage differently and you really feel the imbalance.

With children and teenagers a solid foundation of core, leg and arm strength can overcome the challenge presented by driving because the muscle memory is well established before the imbalanced pattern is introduced. With us older folks, we have to retrain the pattern into a more balanced one. Think of all the hours you have spent behind the wheel over the course of your life. That is about how many hours it may take to retrain the nervous system to function at its best. That means do not delay one more day. Begin to introduce bilateral strength training into your life now.

Here are some exercises to consider:

*Squats - try to go for 30/day initially and increase after the first week as needed (build up to 100 for example).

*Deadlifts- nothing gets your core ready like a solid weight lift. Making sure your toes are in alignment with your knees, press and lift using intervals. Start low and taper up. When you feel a significant resistance and struggle, stop and attempt a couple days later if you are sore.

*Kettlebell swings - excellent for hamstring and glute power. Use the powerful leg muscles to swing kettlebell and allow the arms float up with the weight in front of you. Catch the bell by bending the legs when your arms are about to hit your body on the descent.

I advise to vary your activity as much as possible to avoid overuse injuries.

Did you know you can train for running events using a combination of these exercises? Try it!

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