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Archive for the ‘stretching’ Category

It’s a question I field often, both by students and clients of mine and members of my online stretch/yoga workout portal, TheFlexibilityCoach.com.  I thought it might be helpful to write a blog entry to address the answer to this question, since I’m sure they’re not the only ones who are curious about this!

So here’s what I typically tell them, especially if I have not worked with them in person and therefore can’t assess where they’re current at in terms of their flexibility:

It really all boils down to patience, consistency, and a willingness to see what happens.  Few of us really know where our body’s full potential flexibility or agility lies (genetically, I mean), because few of us have been in the position of specifically training in a way that would develop it to its full fruition.  At the same time, there will come a point, once such training has been given an earnest, consistent effort, in which you’ll start to have a good idea of your body’s inherited biology, at which point you can then make decisions about where to go from there.  It’s possible you’ll see evidence that your body has the ability to achieve that end goal, and it’s just a matter of patience and keeping steady progress.  Or, your efforts may reveal that there are some limiting factors in your body’s physiology that will probably prevent you from achieving a stretch of that intensity, allowing you to revisit your initial goal and setting your sights on a slightly different goal.

Here’s an example regarding my running, since this wisdom applies pretty much across the board with all sports and fitness activities:  I never thought I was capable of being a runner, due to having had lots of pneumonia and chest infections throughout my childhood and teenage years.  In order to find out whether this was true, I had to make a commitment to train regularly and very (make that Very — capital “V” :)) gradually, using a program I’d chosen that looked like a good fit for me.  I made two discoveries over the next few years:  one, I love running!  My body is quite capable of being very comfortable running 5-10 miles, which still blows my mind today.  The second discovery was more sobering:  I can run, but my body doesn’t run naturally.  You know what I mean, you don’t look at me running and think, “Oh, gazelle.”  I’m a solid middle-pack runner even on my best days, and while I can continue to set goals for myself and tweak my program to make improvements, it’s not likely I’ll see an age-group award at a race anytime soon, and I’ve had to let go of the fantasy that one day my body will run “easily” — for me, every workout requires the same effort and focus I needed that first year.  Does this mean my experiment into running was a failure, because of these realities?  On the contrary!  The gifts I have received as a result of being willing to give it a go and see what happens are beyond anything I could have imagined or hoped for.  But the path has unfolded differently than I initially envisioned.

Getting back to the question of The Splits:  I have, for example, a stretch workout called, “Stretches to Master The Splits.”  Assuming your doctor has given you the go-ahead, and assuming you’ve been working out (to give yourself a base), this workout will advance your flexibility in the direction towards achieving The Splits…..IF you do it regularly and correctly.  And if it turns out that you have the genetic predisposition for such a stretch, over time, this workout can be your tool to getting yourself to that goal.  But if it turns out you don’t have the genetics for that stretch in particular, as long as you stay wise and train smart (stay in your comfort zone, train with patience and perseverence), you WILL increase your flexibility no matter what, which undoubtedly will help you in other ways, be it your sport or your fitness level or even your everyday comfort and flexibility.  Think of it this way:  If you’re serious about this goal and you’ve explored this with your doctor and established a fitness base for yourself, aren’t you likely to be better off for having done the workout either way?  Either you’ll achieve the splits or you’ll simply be more flexible than you are now.  Sounds like an improvement, one way or the other!

I hope this clears it up — Good luck to you if this is your goal!  For more information on The Splits and more “ordinary” flexibility goals, visit www.TheFlexibilityCoach.com.

And keep the questions coming, they help me to better help you!

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I’m taking a break from my stretching soapbox (is that the sound of a villager cheering?) to offer up a recommendation that is not only as soothing and relaxing as any good stretching or yoga session, it’s utterly effortless:  piano music by Michael Strening, Jr. — www.msj-music.com.  What a pleasant coincidence that I happened upon what will clearly be on heavy rotation in my home and work for the forseeable future:

Living mere footsteps away from our town’s annual outdoor festival, which includes a huge craft fair, an amusement park, booths from various area restaurants, and multiple concerts and entertainment, it’s only natural that we always spend a portion of the Labor Day weekend as eager attendees to the festivities.  And this past Sunday, we had the good fortune to time one of our visits so that our leisure stroll was accompanied by these warm, sunny, rippling piano notes that perfectly echoed the bright, breezy, mild weather our area was graced with all weekend.  It was the kind of music that some deep recess of your brain is listening to and enjoying constantly, even as your conscious mind is only hazily aware of it.  Thank goodness I just happened to glance over and spot a table on which the artist’s CD’s were being displayed, as only then did it dawn on me to stop and appreciate the lovely music that had been cascading seamlessly through my head.  We resumed our walking, but the seed had been planted, and I couldn’t shake my newfound awareness of this delightful music.  It evoked the same kind of emotions I feel when out for a super-early run, right at that moment when the pre-dawn gives way to the first sign of sunrise.  I’d call it “breaktaking,” but more like, “breathMAKING” — where I suddenly pause, waiting, until indeed I notice my breath is streaming in and out calmly, almost imperceptably.

So needless to say, I had to redirect my husband’s and my course and approach the musician, Michael Strening, Jr., and purchase one of his CD’s!  It turns out he was as delightful a person to talk to as he is gifted with his music.  I’m happy to have had the good luck to experience both.

In any event, based on our conversation and his recommendation, we chose his “Falling Water / Music for Relaxation” CD.  My intention is to use it as an accompaniment for my upcoming fall session of yoga classes, but I have to tell you, given it’s already been on continuous play as I do my normal daily work for The Flexibility Coach, it will be difficult to wrestle it out of my home CD player!

So whether you’re stretching or doing yoga to one of my online workouts, or doing so through some other program, I highly recommend you check out Michael’s music to set the mood, it’s truly exceptional!

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It’s one of the most common questions I encounter, particularly by athletes.  Here’s what I tell them:

Have you ever seen an elderly person shuffling along, body hunched over?  Do you realize that we are all at high risk of that very same fate, and all due to one, seemingly innocent daily occurrence?

Sitting.

That’s right, sitting.

The truth is, even if you’re an ultra-marathon runner, or are in an occupation that entails a great deal of movement, you are still spending much of your day in a seated position.  And when most of us aren’t sitting, we’re often in standing positions in which our posture is compromised:  neck jutted forward, arms out in front of us, shoulders drooped slightly forward.  Over time, the repetitive nature of these positions will have a far more powerful impact on our flexibility, fitness and mobility than even our sports and other activities, unless we take specific action to offset these positions and restore better balance in our muscles and joints.  This is where regular stretching and yoga can be our best weapon against aging.  By stretching the muscles that become tight and strengthening those that become weak from long periods of sitting, we reverse the downward spiral that, left unchecked, threatens to put us in the same position as the struggling eldery person we swear could “never be us.”  (An aside:  How much do you want to bet that person thought the same thing about the elderly when he or she was young and nimble?)

No one likes the prospect of aging.  But the power to affect our mobility and even long-term sport ability is largely in OUR HANDS.  Take action now and give your body and mind the fighting chance they deserve!

For more information on stretching and yoga workouts, including ones you can do right now online, visit me at www.TheFlexibilityCoach.com.

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Do you ever struggle with the concept of “working out online,” or even just long-distance learning in general?  I do, and I’m an online business owner!  When most of our experiences in taking a class have been solely that of the in-person kind, or maybe some tangible educational material such as an instructional DVD (or, dare I date myself, VHS videotape?), the idea of somehow transferring that experience to web-based training can seem nebulous and vague.  And speaking for myself, when something is vague…..I tend to ignore it.

Knowing this, I have just launched a free tour of my website, www.TheFlexibilityCoach.com, so that you can actually try out some stretches, do a stretch workout, and get a sense not only of how great you’ll feel when you’re stretching or doing yoga regularly, but how easy and convenient it is to do so, thanks to the gifts of modern technology and the internet.

To take the free tour, click here.

I hope you enjoy the tour, feel better for having experienced a high-quality, yoga-based stretch workout, and come away with a sense of the tools you will have at your disposal if you become a member of my “virtual flexibility training studio“!

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If you know you need to stretch but you’re unsure where to start, start with your hamstrings (and here’s why).

Having recently returned from a delightful vacation, one that entailed lots of walking (both of the sightseeing kind and of the shopping variety), swimming, morning runs and oh yes, LONG car rides, I’m freshly reminded of both the need to stretch while traveling AND the challenges of doing so.  Between hectic itineraries, different sleep schedules, cramped accommodations, and other constraints that are as much a part of travel as the ubiquitous complimentary continental breakfast, finding the time, place and even willingness to stop and perform a few choice stretches or exercises can be in itself a high hurdle to leap.  Even with the best of plans and nicest of hotel fitness centers, keeping a successful routine of stretching often comes down to having it in the back of your mind at just the right moment, some creative improvisation, and (at times) a readiness to do what you need to do despite the possibility of puzzled onlookers (which always surprises me; in this fitness-aware day and age, why is it that using a bench to get a few kinks out is still such a curiosity-provoking endeavor?).

With the aforementioned in mind, as The Flexibility Coach, I’m always looking for ways to more easily stretch and keep the body on some form of helpful fitness schedule despite the challenges of travel, and this trip was no exception.  And what I noticed most of all was an interesting pattern emerging with my own stretching:  the recurring hamstring stretch.  It seemed no matter how much time I had, what situation I found myself in, what kind of activity I was doing, the first thing my body gravitated to was some form of hamstring stretch, be it a simple “Park Bench Downward Facing Dog” or a more elaborate “Towel Supine Leg Extension With Tic-Toc Movements” (the latter definitely requiring more therapeutic breaths than the former).  Sometimes that one single stretch was all I would do; just one or two rounds the same position and I’d be moseying on with my day.  Sometimes, I’d pair up that “opening act” with a related stretch (the “main headliner,” perhaps?), such as one for the calf muscle or a gentle twist for the low back.  Sometimes, I’d have the opportunity to be quite thorough, going from stretching the hamstrings to opening up the hips to releasing tight chest muscles and throwing in a few exercises as well.  But no matter what, it seemed inevitable that it always began with unwinding those hamstrings.  And the more I thought of it, the more I realized why this makes sense.

Basically, everything we do affects — and places a demand on — our hamstrings.  Walking forward?  Hello, hamstrings.  Walking up stairs or up a hill?  Yep, the hamstrings are a-firing.  Sitting down with your knees bent?  Guess what, your hamstrings are currently in a shortened state, even if not activated.  Leaning forward?  If your hamstrings could talk, you just turned the volume knob up on them.  Bending over and then picking something back up?  Yet another hamstring moment.  Getting up from a chair?  How about running?  Going for a bike ride?  Golfing much?  Check, check, check, and….CHECK, you used your hamstrings.  A lot.  Is it any wonder our flexibility takes such a pounding here?

My point being, if you have no other time for anything else, or if you’re finding yourself needing to stretch but you’re not sure what stretch to choose, you can’t go wrong targeting your hamstrings.  What’s nice is that many, if not most, hamstring stretches will also affect other muscles as well, such as the calf muscles, the low back, the chest, mid back, hips and neck, depending on the stretch, so on top of giving yourself – your hamstrings – some much-needed relief, you’ll very likely be helping other parts of your body that need the release as well.  You can then move on to other stretches or just leave it at that.  At least you know you accomplished something extremely beneficial for yourself!

So this is the one time that you can take whichever fork in the road you want and still end up in the same place – in this case, needing the same stretch!

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If you’ve landed on this blog, there’s a good chance that you have at least one of the following:

a)  Tight calf muscles

b)  Tight hamstrings

c)  A weak or stiff low back

or…

d)  All of the above

I can say this because these are the top 3 complaints we get over at Flexibility Coach Headquarters.  And although there are many potential causes and many ways to approach remedying the problem, one extremely effective consideration is that of stretching not just the muscle in question, but the adjacent muscle(s) as well.  The reason is simple:  Most of the time, tightness in a muscle is largely the result of overuse or underuse.  For example, runners will tend to overuse their calf muscle, whereas golfers will tend to overuse their low back (often, to make up for lack of flexibility and strength in their core and glutes).  This typically results in chronically tight calf muscles for runners, and a stiff and overfatigued low back in golfers — just to name two examples.

So how does addressing adjacent muscles help in these cases?  Because the very inclination towards overuse in one muscle group rarely occurs in isolation.  One of the reasons runners overuse their calf muscles is because the calf, glutes and hamstrings are what propel the body forward when you run on a flat surface or uphill.  And as was already alluded to with golfers, the tendency towards overdependence on the low back is often due to excess tightness in the hip/glute region.

With this in mind, going back to those same “top 3″ muscle groups, here is what you should consider when stretching those areas:

a)  Tight calf muscles:  Make sure you go up your leg and stretch your hamstrings and outer glutes as well.

b)  Tight hamstrings:  Try to include calf stretches, stretches for the glutes, and stretches for the inner thigh/groin region as well.

c)  Stiff or weak low back:  In addition to gentle stretches and strengthening moves in various directions for the low back, you want to also include stretches for the glutes and groin muscles.

Obviously, these are just three examples.  The same principle applies regardless of which muscle or muscle group you’re stretching, but at least this gives you an idea.

And yes, this strategy does require some additional time to stretch all involved muscles, but the tradeoff can be powerful:  better sports performance, reduced injury, and most importantly, protecting your long-term mobility for the activity you can’t imagine not doing!

Looking for reliable online stretching instruction?  Look no further than your stretching expert, The Flexibility Coach.  Become a member today and relieve those tight muscles once and for all!

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(Cross-posted to my other blog, The Hungry Runner)

As many of you know, when The Hungry Runner isn’t running or doing something about that hunger, I’m holding down the fort at my stretching instruction business, The Flexibility Coach.  And the truth is, although my main reason for choosing this line of work oh-so-many moons ago is because of my unquenchable interest in designing effective workouts and flexibility solutions for my clients and yoga students, my ongoing motivation is certainly enhanced by my own flexibility needs!  Despite my being extremely flexible, I still fight many of the same challenges as everyone else, and for me, that especially includes the ongoing battle of keeping my calf muscles supple.  The fact that my most popular post on this blog remains my “What Causes Calf Muscle Tightness?” is actually very comforting — at least I know I’m not alone in discovering that running can sure do a number on one’s calves!

But this is one of the reasons I’m constantly experimenting, to discover new tricks and twists to add to my stretching repertoire.  And I just found a good one yesterday, as I typed away at my latest workout plans for the website.  I had gone for an early morning run, and although I had stretched afterward, the length of the run was a bit longer than I’ve been used to lately, and I found myself needing to refresh my stretches throughout the morning.

On a whim, at some point I was walking through a doorway (to get more coffee, if I must be honest), and stopped for a second.  I placed my hands on the doorframe, leaned forward, and pressed my heels down.  Eureka!  A great calf stretch!  No, it didn’t compare with some of my more intense variations — my favorites are still the stairway-based stretches I include in my book, but in a pinch it gave some quick and effective relief.

You might ask why this is different from using a wall?  The difference was, by resting my hands on the doorframe, I could lean as far forward as I needed, even if that meant my head was partly crossing through the doorway into the next room.  Obviously, I would not have that option using a solid wall.

Hopefully, we’ll include this one in our next photo shoot, but in the meantime, give it a try based on my description, and see if you don’t agree with me!

Looking for more calf stretches and other full-length stretching workouts?  Consider becoming a premium member of TheFlexibilityCoach.com today!  Take a free tour here.

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