Why do we need to stretch?

Katharine Green

Stretching before and after exercise has a direct impact on our flexibility. As we age we become less flexible, muscles become less supple and we see a reduction in movement (see blog; Why Nordic walking keeps us young). Having good flexibility leads to many health benefits;

It makes simple everyday actions easier; Gives you better muscle balance, leading to improved posture; Stretching tight muscles aids in relaxation; Gives you better movement quality; Enables better sporting performance as a result of increased joint movement; Reduces the chance of pulling a muscle; For some people stretching reduces muscle soreness after exercise; Can help with correcting some posture deviations by shortening the extended the muscles.

The ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) is a renowned authority on exercise for health benefits and developed the FITT (Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type) training principle. They recommend the following stretching guidelines for health;

Frequency – minimum of 2-3 times per week

Intensity – 3-4 repetitions per muscle group

Time – Hold the stretch for between 15-60 seconds

Type – commonly used - Static (still) or Dynamic (moving in and out of a stretch in a controlled manner)

As part of our Nordic walking classes we always prepare ourselves for the lesson with either some static stretching or gentle walking exercises, focusing on mobilizing the hips and waking up the leg, arm and shoulder muscles. The cool down stretches focus on including all muscle groups that are used when Nordic walking. Many of these muscles used are fairly inactive on a daily basis, particularly the shoulders, back and arm muscles and glutes. Hence, it is particularly important that we aid recovery after they have worked hard.

Many participants comment on how much better they feel after a few weeks of doing these simple exercises in the classes and we always encourage them stretch as regularly as possible. A daily stretch will help to maintain mobility, prevent injuries and above all help relieve stiffness and even some related pain. The great thing about stretching is how quickly you notice results and improvement week on week, no matter what age you are. Whilst stretching will benefit those who do no exercise at all, it becomes vital for those who are active or embarking on new exercise regimes, because muscles tend to shorten if they are worked fairly hard and not allowed to cool down properly with a conditioning stretch. This simply makes the exerciser feel tight and achy rather than energized and mobilized. The poles are a great accessory to stretching and are included in nearly every stretch we do. They can be used as a support, or balance aid, increasing variety and interest. Here are a few of our favourite Nordic walking stretches:

The Back Stretch

Stand with feet hip width apart, put the poles out in front of you and walk backwards until your back is parallel to the ground. Have soft knees, leaning you weight on to your toes. Feel the stretch in your back and shoulders, and don’t forget to breathe!

Glutes stretch

Have the poles in front of you for support and place one ankle on top of the opposite thigh, bending the supporting knees and hinge forward from the hips. Ensure the supporting knee stays in line with ankle. You will feel a strong stretch across the buttock muscle.

Tricep stretch

Hold the poles parallel above your head, let go with one hand and let the pole drop down behind your back, move the hand down to hold it behind you back in a vertical position. Pull the pole down gently until you can feel the stretch in the back of the upper arm.

Side stretch

Cross your right leg around behind your left and place the poles in your left hand, using them for support bring your right arm up and stretch it over your head, leaning to the left, reaching as far as you can. Imagine your body is between two sheets of glass not leaning forwards or backwards.

So however hard you've worked and whatever you age try and make time to stretch, it will make you feel better.

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