Do you sit for long periods of time?
Do you exercise?
Do you exercise and sit for long periods of time?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions you’re a candidate for tight muscles and joints – if you don’t have them already.
Truthfully, it’s pretty difficult to avoid muscle and joint tension. It’s just part of the human condition. Consider the following –
When we hold our muscles in one position
for long periods of time like when sitting at a desk, standing, or driving, they get tight.
After hard exercise
our muscles will tighten.
If we exercise and sit for long periods of time
we’re even bigger candidates for tight, muscles and joints because the two activities can compound each other in creating stiffness.
As life goes on, no matter what we do
if we move a lot or don’t move much at all, we’ll inevitably encounter tight and sore muscles and joints. We can’t avoid it, but we can alleviate it – through stretching.
I always assign a stretching routine to clients because it’s part of a complete exercise program. Most of them will ask me –
“When is the best time to stretch?”
There’s no single answer for this. In fact, if I narrow it down, there are five best times. Here they are:
1. After your workout
After a workout your muscles are warm. Warm muscles are more flexible. So when you stretch after a workout you’ll be able to stretch further, and this can improve your flexibility all the more.
(Please note, simply being in a hot environment won’t warm your muscles enough to create more flexibility, you need to move your body in order to warm up correctly.)
Some of the soreness you’ll feel after a hard workout is caused by muscle swelling, causing a feeling of tightness. The swelling comes from blood, water, and white blood cells that flow into the muscle to repair the damage after a hard exercise session. Stretching after a workout will keep the blood moving and help clear out excess fluid from your muscles so you’ll have less soreness in the hours that follow.
2. Before your workout (after a warmup)
If you have problem areas like tight joints, tight muscles or old injuries, it can help to stretch them before exercising.
Tight muscles, tight tendons, or scar tissue can prevent your joint from moving freely. To top it off, all the muscles around a joint don’t tighten equally. So, one side of your joint will always get tighter than the other.
When we move with joints that are unbalanced or tight we create friction at the joint, which leads to inflammation and pain. If we ignore the issue, we can find ourselves with more serous injuries down the road like tears, and eventually even arthritis. Stretching before a workout (along with your regular stretching program) will loosen muscles around the joints and allow your joints to move more freely during the repetitive movement of exercise. In this way, you can avoid injury. But remember to warm up first so you’ll be more flexible.
There is some controversy about stretching before a workout. Click here to see my recommendations on the best way to warm up and stretch before exercise.
3. In the morning
Stretching first thing in the morning gets rid of stiffness that develops from lying in one place overnight. If you don’t have time to exercise in the morning, a good stretch can really help you to wake up and feel ready for your day.
4. Throughout the day
Since sitting for long periods of time has been linked to health problems (1), stretching throughout the day is a good way to get up and away from the desk. Small stretch breaks can rid you of the tension that settles in your joints when you stay in one place for hours.
A yoga class can be an excellent way to stretch the entire body. Just one or two classes per week that focus on the stretching component of yoga can really boost your flexibility. Your body can feel great for hours after the right yoga class.
5. At night
Stretching before sleep can help you to relieve tension from the day, relax and sleep better. It can also help prevent stiffness that can develop from sleeping in one position all night.
There are many great times to stretch.
These are my top five. But the best time for you to stretch is when you can fit it in. Keep in mind the more stretching you can do the better off you’ll be for the long run.
When do you stretch and how much do you stretch?
Share with me in the comments below.
Don’t have a stretching routine yet? Here’s a great one to start.
1.) Sitting Too Much: How Bad Is It? Kathleen Doheny, Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD. WebMD.com April 07, 2014 http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/20140407/sitting-disease-faq?page=1