Science Wednesday: Stretch. That is all.

Ever feel like you’re walking around on muscles that feel like rubber bands that are stretched too tight? Yup. That’s what it feels like in my shoulder right now, and that means it’s time to stretch.

Yes. It is now time to stretch. (Image courtesy of stockimages at
Yes. It is now time to stretch. (Image courtesy of stockimages at

Flexibility is one of the three key pillars of fitness (the other two are cardiovascular exercise and strength training). Right now, with my shoulder still suffering the aftereffects of a traumatic fall, flexibility feels like the most important of the three as I struggle to regain full range of motion. It’s a very odd feeling when one arm just won’t do what you’re telling it to do. And so, there are stretches. And more stretches. And ice. And all sorts of other things designed to get my shoulder back into the land of the fully functional.

Including the thing none of us likes to admit we sometimes need more of at times like this. Patience.

Stretching is about patience. Flexibility training isn’t sexy. It doesn’t give you a big ol’ calorie burn on your heart rate monitor. It doesn’t give you the opportunity to write in your training journal that you did 8 reps at 30 pounds of Exercise X, which is “sooooo much better than last week!”

Flexibility training isn’t sexy. It’s just essential.

From the Mayo Clinic:

Better flexibility may improve your performance in physical activities or decrease your risk of injuries by helping your joints move through their full range of motion and enabling your muscles to work most effectively. Stretching also increases blood flow to the muscle.

The article includes some excellent pointers on how and when to stretch (and when not to stretch as well – case in point, stretching is not a “warmup” for physical activity).  The details can be found by following the link to the full article. Below, I’m summarized the bullet-point list of tips from the article that can help you put together a consistent stretching program that works for you:

  • Don’t consider stretching a warm-up.

  • Focus on major muscle groups.

  • Don’t bounce.

  • Hold your stretch.

  • Don’t aim for pain.

  • Make stretches sport-specific.

  • Keep up with your stretching.

  • Bring movement into your stretching.

On this Science Wednesday, I invite you to remember that your body is a machine. It needs regular care to function properly. Think of stretching as a regular tune-up for your muscles, joints, and connective tissues. The cool spin classes and strength sessions give you bragging rights; the flexibility training you do before and after those workouts make it possible for you to keep on doing them, for life.

Yesterday’s Every48 workout: Oops. I meant to get to the gym for a bike ride, and I did not get there. Sore shoulder, but that is not a cool excuse at this stage of the game. Today shall be better.

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