Summer holidays are fabulous: sun, fresh air, and a well-earned rest. However, when you return to reality it can often be hard to get back into your exercise routine in a controlled and gradual way. Although it’s tempting, especially if you are working towards a goal, don’t feel like you’ve got to make up for any workout time missed while away. Bombarding your body with vigorous workouts after a more sedentary period is not ideal. Instead, keep the first few sessions back to steady cardio, bodyweight and resistance exercises.
The other important thing to consider when looking after your body is recovery from exercise. When increasing your exercise load you must consider how you are going to help your body recover and refrain from sustaining an injury. One of the best ways to help your body maintain good form is stretching.
Stretching comes in many different forms. The one you are probably most familiar with is static stretching, done passively: This requires an external force to hold the stretch and stretches are most commonly held from 15 – 60 seconds. Contrary to what most of us learnt in Physical Education at school, I would advise against this form of stretching pre-exercise. It has been shown in most studies to make little or no effect on performance and even decrease performance in exercise. Static stretching is best used post-exercise or gently in the evening before bed, preferably after a warm bath.
The current preferred pre-exercise form of stretching is dynamic stretching. This involves repetitive slow movements that progressively increase in range, for example joint rotations like ankle rolls or arm circles. Dynamic stretching improves flexibility in motion and can resemble movements you may make in a specific sport.
Can you touch your toes? For an increase in long-term flexibility, it is important to develop a continued stretching regime. Even if you just add on 5-10 minutes at the end of your usual workout you can improve your flexibility. As flexibility increases, the resistance against a joint rotation decreases and therefore the range of movement at that joint increases. It makes sense that with a larger range of movement, injury is less likely as a result of any unexpected sudden forces on the joint.
Your stretching regime should be carried out after exercise or completely separately. I would advise a mix of static stretching and something called PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) stretching. PNF is often recognised as the contract-relax method: a partner takes you to the end-range stretch of a muscle, you then contract the muscle against your partner’s resistance for a period of time, after which you relax and your partner stretches the muscle further. PNF stretching is something that I like to help my massage clients out with at the end of a session if increasing flexibility is a goal of theirs. If you are interested in PNF stretching why not book a session with me and we can work on it together post-massage!
When trying to increase flexibility it is likely that you will experience a level of discomfort when stretching to your end range. This is normal but the sensation should not be pushed into real pain as this can cause injury in itself. You know your body and its limits so stretch with consciousness!
With thanks to Jules Mitchell MS, CMT, Yoga teacher and massage therapist writing in Co-Kinetic Journal, July 2019.
Pictures are of me!