Can you touch your toes?
I have had my pulse on the health and fitness industry for many years now, reading different articles on training, nutrition and rehabilitation. Recently, I decided to become a certified yoga teacher and have spent the last year working on attaining my 200-level certificate, attending courses each month, one-on-one personal yoga training each week and cultivating my own home practice.
My knowledge has increased on the human body and my understanding deepened greatly. My own body awareness has improved, my core strength increased and my flexibility and muscular endurance has greatly strengthened. This, in turn, has brought me pain relief, better posture, restful sleep and a greater sense of myself. I thought this month I would share some of that with you all in the hopes you too may find the benefits of regular flexibility training.
Yoga and the fitness industry share the philosophy of honouring where you are at and working away at improving through practice or regular exercise programming. In weight lifting, we focus on the concentric movement; the contracting of the muscle, for example, a bicep curl. In yoga, we focus on the eccentric movement; the active lengthening of the muscle, for example, a forward fold. In forward fold, we actively lengthen the hamstrings as we stand and fold forward reaching for our toes mindful to lengthen our whole back as well.
As a personal trainer we are taught to teach stretching at the end of the workout to help maintain and increase your muscles’ range of motion. As a yoga instructor our emphasis is on holding poses for 30 seconds minimum and upwards and actively lengthening our muscles. This too builds muscular strength, endurance all while increasing our flexibility.
Through daily activity, work, gym, gardening, household chores and sports, to name a few, we ask a lot of our bodies. In particular, we engage in concentric movement daily and most of us rarely spend time on the eccentric movement. We do not put enough thought on a regular basis on the small things. Often, we wait until we lose the ability to do those small things and then look to make the changes needed to regain those lost abilities. Simply put, we take for granted the ability to touch our toes until one day we cannot.
If we put our attention on always being able to touch our toes then it would reason we will always keep the ability. Through my strength training and now regular yoga practice I have learned you need both to keep your body in balance. Too much concentric movement and you will lose range of motion, risk injuries and lose those small abilities. Yoga helps to maintain that balance. Focusing on actively lengthening your muscles increases your range of motion and in the end aids in building a strong balanced body.
You do not have to take a yoga class or become yogi to enjoy its benefits. You do, however, need to spend as much time on flexibility as you do on strength training. If you have an active job then regular, consistent stretching is also a must. The same goes for a job where you are required to sit all day. This increases in importance if you sleep with your knees tucked in!
Sitting for long periods and sleeping with your knees tucked in tightens your front hip flexors, pulling your pelvis out of alignment and keeping your core muscles from firing properly. Ever wonder why your lower back aches? Regular stretching of your front hip flexors allows you to properly engage your core and alleviate lower back pain. Maintaining correct body alignment aids in proper breathing, helps your body move properly by keeping your muscles in balance, reducing your risk of injury and chronic aches and pain like lower back pain. When you are able to sit up tall your diaphragm can expand to its fullest capability allowing you to take in more oxygen which increases brain function and heart function not to mention as you age you will keep your height!
There are many ways to incorporate flexibility training into your daily life. My advice is to choose morning or evening and dedicate 10 minutes a day to lengthening your muscles. Pick one goal maybe to be able to touch your toes, sit up straight or sit cross legged to work on for the first four weeks and focus your training around that. As you increase your flexibility you will start to see your posture improve as well as your breathing. There are some free websites like www.doyogawithme.com that are free online classes that can help you get started. You can also check out You Tube for some ideas or contact your local gym or studio for advice. Happy flexibility training!
(Nicole Cournoyer is the general manager of Anytime Fitness in Chemainus).