Like most fitness activities, stretching requires a certain amount of discipline and willpower. It's not an activity that happens by accident, so an intentional effort must be made to create an environment where stretching can occur.
However, the good news is that stretching can be done almost anywhere, and there's an immediate benefit.
Almost everyone knows how to stretch, it's an activity that most are taught at a young age. The irony is that children are so flexible that stretching can feel pointless until the body begins to develop more muscle mass. And by the time that happens, so many other fitness activities seem more important.
But stretching can (and does) create an immediate effect, regardless of when the practice begins in a person's life. Muscles will respond to stretching as long as there is consistency.
I have worked with hundreds, if not thousands of adults who have experienced the benefits of stretching, which include but are not limited to improved biomechanics, reduced stiffness, reduced back pain, better posture ... .
So how does one prioritize stretching? I'd suggest that it's not as easy as setting aside 5 minutes before or after a workout. While that idea is fine in theory, I have seen it fail time and time again in practice. When time is short, that's the part of the workout that is eliminated. If stretching is included, the allocated time becomes shorter and shorter until it's effectively useless.
I've started to plan my own stretch sessions just like they are a workout of their own. Saturday morning at 9 is my planned stretch time, and it's a glorious 25 minutes of dedicated stretching time. Rarely does something come up that prevents this session from taking place, and I feel great after.
I also plan little stretching "snacks" throughout the workweek. These keep my muscles loose until my next dedicated session. It has been a recipe for success.
This week's exercise is one of my favorite additions, because the medicine ball is a visual reminder of the progress I've made. The Medicine Ball Hamstring Stretch is appropriate for all fitness levels and easy enough to perform anywhere.
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1. Select a medicine ball and sit on the floor with your torso upright and the ball between your legs.
2. Spread your legs just beyond shoulder width apart.
3. Place both hands on the medicine ball and lowly roll the ball forward with your hands.
4. As you do this, the ball will get farther away from you. So, you'll need to lean the torso forward to continue rolling.
5. Keeping the knees down, continue rolling until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings.
6. Pause for 10 seconds, then slowly roll back to the starting position.
7. Repeat for 3-5 reps.
The cool part about this exercise is that the medicine ball provides support that helps facilitate a better stretch. The lower back and shoulders are more relaxed, but the hamstrings really feel great after a few repetitions. Let's get to work!
Director of business development and population health solutions for Quest Diagnostics, Matt Parrott began this column Jan. 6, 2003, at Little Rock. He loves to hear from readers. Write to him at: [email protected]