“How often do I really need to stretch?”
This is a question I’m asked on at least a weekly basis and one that seems to be surrounded by a lot of confusion.
You don’t need to set aside an hour or more a day and you certainly don’t need to achieve Yogi status or master full side splits, but you do need to understand that movement is life.
I’m by no means advocating stretching to resolve any or all mobility issues, but I do encourage daily movement and stretching wherever possible as a proactive strategy for a healthy, pain-free life.
Our modern lifestyles consist of primarily sedentary living with prolonged sitting or standing as the workplace norm. With about a third of our day spent at work and (hopefully) a third of our day spent sleeping, we really need to make the effort to commit to using some of the time left for corrective and restorative wellbeing.
For me, I found the 1-2 stretch classes I was teaching each week were enough for general mobility and limbering work.
It would probably equate to a total of 45-50 minutes of actual stretching between the two classes, considering I wasn’t participating in every exercise for teaching and assisting students.
Even this small amount was enough to keep me mobile and maintain my current level of flexibility.
But if I’d had a particularly busy week, especially with the sporting teams, I would often need to add at lunchtime, evening or somewhere-in-between stretch or 2 in. Otherwise, I’d become uncomfortable, tired, sore, stiff and really irritable. I definitely would not be at my best, that’s for sure.
Whenever I’m on a break from teaching classes, even for a short period of time, I’m really noticing the difference. Just that 1 dedicated day each week where I would stretch during class demonstrations made such a difference to how comfortable my body felt.
And (not so) funnily enough, the niggles, aches, and pains quickly returned.
It’s a pity you can’t ‘bank’ up stretching.
It needs to be done on a regular, consistent basis to maximise the benefits. Boo. But Yay! Because it actually does feel good!
Not sure how to kick off? Try my top 5 recommendations:
- Do Something Everyday. Whether it’s 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning, middle, or end of your day (or somewhere in between), make the decision to commit to moving more often. I keep my mat in the lounge room and despite being a morning person, I personally prefer stretching in the evening.
- Stay Within Your Limits. Don’t go attempting full side splits on your first session. Start small, but make it consistent.
- Consistency Beats Difficulty. You’ll be more likely to succeed and get the results you’re after by maintaining a super simple, but consistent program versus attempting advanced yoga style poses.
- Be Selective. You don’t have to cover your whole body every day. Pick an area that needs work that day and just focus on that.
- Find What Works For You. I stretch daily for about 20-30 minutes, sometimes broken up into 2x sessions, depending on the attitude and mood of my toddler. I love mornings and I’m always up early (other than Sundays…), but as much as I LOVE the peacefulness of being up before anyone else in the house (including our Kelpie), any stretching I do in the morning, especially within the first few hours of getting up is uncomfortable, not enjoyable, and ineffective. Anytime from late morning, into the evening is when I enjoy the biggest benefits; when my body has had a good chance to move around and warm up first. I keep my mat in the lounge room so it’s ready to be rolled out as soon as said Toddler is tucked up in bed. There’s no ‘perfect time’ for everyone, but you’ll find what works for you and what fits in with your lifestyle.
You must put the effort in to enjoy the results. Yes, it will take work. And yes, it will be worth it. And please, if you have old or new injuries that need addressing, consult your health care professional before embarking on anything new.