Fitness: Stretching your way to better health

Add this share

READ MORE | Troy Meyers’ fitness tips from past weeks on Project Q Atlanta

imageBefore we became such a highly industrialized, automated and sedentary society, most Americans spent most of their day doing some form of physical activity. Today, we must use it or lose it.

With the exception of those who exercise regularly, few adults do much in the way of movement. A typical business person drives to work in the morning, sits at a desk all day, drives home in the evening, then reads or watches television until bedtime.

This routine is repeated over and over throughout the midlife years, until one day we discover that we don’t move very well. We feel tight and tense, and we may experience a variety of aches and pains, especially in our hips, backs, necks and shoulders.

What happens is a classic example of the “use it or lose it” principle of human physiology. Unlike automobile engines that wear out with use, our musculoskeletal systems seem to rust out with lack of use.

That’s why it’s so important to do strength training to maintain muscle tissue and bone density. But it’s equally essential to do stretching exercise to maintain joint flexibility and functional movement.

Many people become aware of neck inflexibility when they have to turn their whole upper body to check traffic when backing up their vehicles. Others experience stiffness in the morning or after sitting for extended periods of time.

Some become abruptly aware of their rigid bodies when they take a ski trip, go sailing or hit a few tennis balls. The first golf or softball game of the season can also be a rude awakening, resulting in injuries to tight muscles, such as the lower back and hamstrings.

Unfortunately, as movement becomes more difficult, people tend to move even less, leading to further debilitation and lifestyle limitations.

Fear not. There’s good news for those willing to work towards better musculoskeletal function, visit By systematically stretching, muscles can become more extensible, and joint structures can become more flexible.

Regardless of age, muscles have the ability to respond positively to a progressive program of stretching exercises. Let’s take a look at how to improve joint flexibility in a safe, effective and efficient manner.

Six Principles of Stretching
1. Always stretch within your comfort zone. In other words, never stretch to the point of pain. Although a mild muscle taughtness may be desirable, discomfort has no part in a sensible stretching program.

2. Relax. It is almost impossible to stretch effectively when you are tense, and an up-tight stretching session can certainly increase the risk of tissue injury.

3. Exercise first. It may actually be counterproductive to stretch a cold muscle. After exercising your body temperature is elevated and your muscles are more extensible. Although the example of salt-water taffy may be a bit extreme, the analogy has some application from an injury-prevention perspective.

4. Stretch slowly. Fast muscle movements and bouncing actions trigger the stretch reflex that causes the muscle to contract rather than relax. Be sure to move slowly and gently into each stretched position, avoiding abrupt actions.

5. Pause for 10 to 30 seconds in the fully-stretched position. While it is neither necessary nor advisable to stretch to the point of discomfort, it is important to maintain each stretched position long enough for the muscles to make the desired adaptations. Although stretches may be held for longer time periods, research indicates that most of the flexibility benefits can be attained in 10 to 30 seconds.

6. Training consistency. Unlike strength and endurance exercise that requires relatively high-effort training for best results, stretching must be essentially effortless (relaxed) to be fully effective. Therefore, you must commit to stretching regularly. Plan to perform 10 to 15 minutes of stretching at the end of every exercise session. Try not to view stretching as an add-on that you may include if time permits, as the catch-as-catch-can approach typically results in infrequent stretching sessions.

There is no hard and fast rule on what stretches you should do, but at least one stretch for the rear thigh (hamstring), low back and shoulder joint muscles is recommended. If you have to do just one exercise that involves all of these muscles to some degree, it’s the Figure-Four Stretch:

Begin by sitting on the floor with your left leg straight and your right leg bent at the knee so that your right foot touches your left thigh.

Reach your left hand toward your left foot slowly, until your hamstrings feel comfortably stretched. Grasp your foot, ankle, or lower leg and hold the stretched position for 10 to 30 seconds.

Change leg positions and repeat the same procedure for your right hamstrings.

You should also feel some stretching effects in your calf, hip, low back, and shoulder muscles as you do the figure “4” stretch.

image Contributing blogger Troy Meyers is a certified personal trainer and sports conditioner with more than 10 years of experience. He owns Atlanta-based and contributes to the site’s Lockerroom Blog.


Project Q Atlanta goes on hiatus after 14 years

On Sept. 1, 2008, Project Q Atlanta promised a hyper-local “queer media diet” for Atlanta. The site set out to bring LGBTQ news, in-depth...

Photos catch Purple Dress Run invading Midtown

After three years of pandemic-inflicted limitations, Atlanta’s gay rugby squad let loose on one of its most popular events. The Atlanta Bucks Purple Dress...

Ooo Bearracuda: Photos from Bear Pride’s Main Event

The seventh annual Atlanta Bear Pride hit the ground running on Friday with packed houses at Woofs, Heretic and Future. Turned out, they hadn’t...

Atlanta Bear Pride set to go hard and long all weekend

That low, growing growl you hear is a nation of gay bears headed for Atlanta Bear Pride this weekend. By the time they arrive,...

PHOTOS: Armorettes bring back Easter Drag Race magic

Gay Atlanta’s queens of do-good drag brought the sunshine to a cloudy afternoon on Saturday when Heretic hosted the triumphant return of Armorettes Easter...