Better Ways of Stretching...

exercise technique pain reduction published article safe movement Jul 04, 2021

Better ways of stretching out stiff muscles! 

If we feel stiff or sore in our muscles or joints, it can be instinctive to stretch!  This is not just a human trait - take a look at your pet dog or cat, particularly after a nap! 

But though it may be instinctive, we aren’t particularly good at it. 

Technically what is a stretch? It can be described as a straightening or extending of one’s body or part of one’s body to its full length, typically to bring the muscle or tendon under tension with the aim of improving the muscle’s elasticity, control, flexibility, and range of motion. 

Sounds simple enough but most of us are sabotaging our results by missing a couple of simple principles. Here are a few refinements to make your stretches more effective and enjoyable. 

Make it two-way 

When we stretch, we really should be moving both ends of the muscle away from each other, but what we tend to do is stretch from only one side. Or even worse, we move “with” the stretch instead of “against” it.  Confused? 

Let’s use a neck stretch as an example. 

Try tilting your right ear to your right shoulder to stretch the muscles down the left side of the neck. More than likely you lifted your left shoulder as you tilted, in effect “moving with your stretch”. Now try this! Draw your left arm behind your back, drawing and pinning your left shoulder down. Now try tilting your right ear to your right shoulder. It won’t go as far but you should feel the stretch more intensely. You should also feel the stretch radiate further, from the base of your ear all the way down your arm. 

Belly to spine to intensify 

Let’s take it one step further.  As you stretch, draw your belly strongly into your spine and draw the front, back and sides of your ribcage downwards towards your hips. Notice how this further intensifies the stretch by further anchoring the lower arm. We’re still not done! 

Exhale and relax 

As you draw your belly in, exhale long and slow. Close your eyes and visualise relaxing through the muscles, tendons and joints.  Let gravity do its thing by letting it draw your body downward and increase your stretch even further.   

We have tended to think of stretching as bringing a muscle under tension, but tension is created with resistance and stretching shouldn’t be about resistance – it should be about letting go.  It’s about moving a muscle into end range and then internally letting go of that tension in the muscles and tendons. 

In summary: 

  1. Ease your muscle to its full length without force. 
  2. Anchor both ends of the muscle by moving the joints on either side, away from the muscle being stretched. 
  3. Intensify your stretch by drawing your belly into your spine and your ribcage down towards your hips. 
  4. Further intensify your stretch by breathing out long and slow in a relaxing exhale, letting your body become heavy and soft, while keeping the joints and core in their anchoring positions. 
  5. Visualise the muscles, joints and tendons letting go and the tension releasing.   

Written by Marya Hopman – Personal Trainer, Corrective Exercise Specialist, founder of  OptimalMe Fitness and co-founder of seniors exercise providers SuperCue Seniors 

 As featured in Seasons Magazine's July 2021 Issue

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