Along with the spring weather, lockdown has got the world on a mission to work out. Whether we’re now trying to go for a daily run, walk or bike ride, take part in an online HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout, or do more sit ups, many of us are breaking a sweat right now.
But while we’re trying to stay fit, there’s one thing many of us are neglecting: stretching. Sure, we might do the odd bit hip stretch after a run, but are you properly stretching? It can be essential for your muscles and your mind.
Personal Trainer Julia Buckley explains: “From what I see, people are working out more, but I fear many of us are moving around less throughout the day.
“I’ve had lots of messages and comments from people doing my live workouts saying they don’t normally have time for a workout and that they’re using the lockdown as an opportunity to get fit.
“This is great, but I’m a little worried that people are sweating it out in short workouts and then being very sedentary the rest of the day.”
Exercise is good – but it can make muscles tight…
“We’ve all experienced how tight muscles can get after doing exercises that challenge us,” says Buckley, who runs a daily 8am (GMT) workout. “Stretching helps alleviate this, but also brings many long term benefits.
“It keeps our muscles healthy so we can stay strong and get the most out of our workouts, it ensures we move correctly, which helps reduce injury risk, and maintains our mobility and range of movement.
“The more range we have, the ‘bigger’ the movements we can make, which means we perform better in exercise and burn more calories.”
Add in mindful breathing to your stretch
Mel Enright teaches yoga and works with surf and yoga retreats Surf Sistas, who are hosting online stretch workshops. She says: “Stretching improves circulation and blood flow in the body, so it keeps everything ‘moving’ and the blood oxygenated. Stretching combined with mindful breathing – using the breath to marry and match with the stretching – can help decrease anxiety.”
It also improves posture and joint mobility, says Enright, and can calm the mind, too. “Stretching can help prevent injury. If joints are attached to stiff muscles, that’s not great. Stretching helps release the fascia (connective tissue) which covers the muscles and can make them feel tight.”
Try to hold a stretch for a while so you are breathing into the body, she adds. “It makes you feel good, connecting you back with your body – like massage, in a way. Especially at this time, where we are all worrying about things. Simple stretching really connects the energy and focus back on the body, which can release stress from your mind.”
Post-workout stretches bridge the gap between high and calm
“I like to stretch right after a workout because the muscles are warm and supple, which makes stretching easier, and it’s sort of a yin and yang thing,” says Buckley.
“In our workouts we get the adrenaline pumping and feel high, for many it’s a time of escapism where the focus is on moving our bodies in the moment, rather than thinking about things outside of ourselves or whatever is going on in our lives.”
“We can use the post-workout stretch to bring ourselves gently back into our lives with a clearer and calmer mind, having released physical tension and worked off pent up nervous energy,” she adds.
Stretching at any time, not just post workout
It’s not just good to stretch after a workout, Buckley explains, but at any time of day.
“All the same benefits apply whether we’re working out or not. This will optimise all the physical benefits, like reducing soreness and keeping us moving well, and helps us release tension and reset the mind.
“Our muscles still need to be kept in good condition for simply moving around in daily life. Also, simply taking a few minutes to stretch can be a great first step towards building the habit of taking time to care for our bodies with exercise.”
Follow this video from Julia Buckley to get into your stretching today