Winter proves to be long and cold, providing just the excuse we need to let cobwebs collect on our outdoor gear. Yet the arrival of spring tends to draw many of us outdoors again. We finally escape the retreat of our winter nests, rousing to celebrate a new vitality, born of this season, awakening our hibernating spirit of enthusiasm.
Many of us will find ourselves spending increasing amounts of time walking, running, hiking, swimming, or perhaps playing team sports or smartening up our gardens. No matter what our occupation, leisure interests or personal endeavours, every spring stirs an unrestrained longing for open aired ventures.
No more recess–it’s time to drag those runners out of dusty closet, brush them off, and tie them to our feet. But how do we launch our bodies sensibly into action, without the usual limitation of throbbing muscles, or the dreaded possibility of injury?
The remedy: a proper warm up…
Undemanding motion and light dynamic stretching, involving the gentle movement of various parts of our body, will decrease the risk of injury or muscle strain as we launch into outdoor pursuits. A dynamic stretching plan will warm muscles, and in doing so, will prepare our joints for action and facilitate muscular co-ordination.
Other benefits of stretching include improved circulation, enhanced posture, better balance, and of course, increased flexibility.
Let’s review some straightforward tips:
1. Stretch slow and controlled. Dynamic stretching does not include bouncing or jerking.
2. Breathe! Be careful not to hold our breath while stretching.
3. Hold each stretch for 30 – 60 seconds (holding a stretch for a long period of time can cause the muscle to retract).
4. Avoid uncomfortable stretches; stretching should not cause pain. Overstretching can strain the surrounding ligaments and tendons.
5. Do not stretch cold muscles. Stretching is most effective after a brief warm up. Try walking at an easy pace for 10 minutes before stretching. Or stretch after a warm shower or bath.
Beyond the physical payback of stretching, or its benefit in injury prevention, stretching boosts our mind and mood. The increased oxygen supply not only nourishes our muscles, but it stimulates our brain, often leaving us feeling more awake and energized. This also provides us a channel to relieve tensions opposing both mind and body, and occasion to de-stress, de-fuse and reflect.
It is paramount that we stretch our muscles again post-activity, ending workouts or challenging activities with passive or static stretches. These are stretches that allow our body temperature to cool down, and involve holding a position to elongate muscles after they have been tightened and shortened. Doing so effectively minimizes restriction, stiffness or muscle tenderness that often hangs on after an otherwise rewarding work out.
A final pointer for muscular wellbeing: drink ample amounts of water. Hydrated muscles are happy muscles.
We stretch to prime and protect our muscles, tone our body, and most of all to feel alert and vibrant! Now we’re ready to kickoff spring with a twist added to our daily routine, remembering that summer is just around the next bend.