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If you haven't exercised in some time, chances are you were relatively sedentary during this period. One of the biggest concerns when you start a new fitness and exercise program is not your weight, your appearance, or even how much you can lift. The biggest concerns are your overall health and your flexibility.
In this section we will deal with flexibility and why it is important to you. Just remember that spending most of your time in a seated position without improving your flexibility will leave your hamstrings and glutes tighter than security at Fort Knox! This is not to mention any postural imbalances, neck and low back tightness, and other flexibility concerns. But just because you haven't stretched in months, don't despair!
You can regain (and possibly improve) your flexibility relatively quickly, even if it has been years since you specifically worked on flexibility.
Why Should I Worry About Flexibility?
Good question! Improving your flexibility will give you a number of benefits including:
- Reducing the chances of a muscle strain or other such injury.
- Giving you more range of motion to do daily tasks such as carrying bags of groceries, playing with your kids, cleaning up the garage, etc.
- Increases the likelihood that your muscles will work properly when you are serious about weight training and cardio work to improve your health.
- Reduces the amount of time needed to get in shape if you decide to ever go back and play a particular sport or pick up a new activity.
- Helps repair minor muscle tears you pick up from weight training, even if you use safe weight lifting exercise form.
There are several ways to improve your flexibility, and you are going to stick with the basics for now. You do not have to spend tons of money, buy special clothing, or take any special pills or potions to improve your flexibility; and it's quite possible that you will discover lot about your body when you begin stretching.
How Do I Improve My Flexibility?
Here are just some of the ways to help you improve your stretching:
- Yoga or Pilates classes at your gym
- Lifting weights through a full range of motion
- Dynamic stretching
- PNF stretching
- Martial arts stretching
- Sports-specific stretching
- Stretching the specific muscle groups worked after you complete your weight training for a particular body part
- Traditional, basic stretching
A study was done at the United States Military Academy in the 1970's with the founder of Nautilus equipment. It was proven then that full range of motion weight lifting enhanced flexibility
If you have injuries or structural impediments (such as artificial parts in your body from joint replacement surgery) then simply exercise in the fullest range of motion you can tolerate.
What Are Dynamic And PNF Stretching?
Dynamic stretching is a form of stretching beneficial in sports utilizing momentum from form, static-active stretching strength and the momentum from static-active stretching strength, in an effort to propel the muscle into an extended range of motion not exceeding one's static-passive stretching ability. Anything beyond this range of motion becomes ballistic stretching. It is a type of stretching whilst moving, appossed to static stretching where you stand still.
PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation) stretching is a physical therapy procedure designed in the 1940s and 1950s to rehabilitate patients with paralysis. It is often a combination of passive stretching and isometrics contractions. In the 1980s, components of PNF began to be used by sport therapists on healthy athletes. The most common PNF leg or arm positions encourage flexibility and coordination throughout the limb's entire range of motion. PNF is used to supplement daily stretching and is employed to make quick gains in range of motion to help athletes improve performance. Good range of motion makes better biomechanics, reduces fatigue and helps prevent overuse injuries. PNF is practiced by physical therapists, massage therapists, athletic trainers and others.
If you have no familiarity with a specific stretching routine, that's fine! You can do a brief stretching routine right after doing a light warm up such as moderately riding the exercise for 5-10 minutes. Also, you can do this routine after your workout if it helps you cool down.
When stretching, you want to breathe normally and in as relaxed a manner as possible. Holding your breath may cause you to tighten up; and this will be counter-productive to your goal of loosening up your muscles.
How Long Do I Hold The Stretch?
You want to slowly get into a position of where you feel slight tension, take a deep breath and imagine going just a little bit further. You never want to go to the point where you feel pain or as if something is going to rip or tear!
Once you reach the point of tension, breathe smoothly and get to your stretch position. You will hold your stretch from 10 to 20 seconds; and you may notice that the tension actually loosens a little bit. If you are ever in doubt, always make the decision to focus on safety and not stretch as far. You may even stop the particular stretch. Remember that you can always come back to the gym in the next few days if you stay healthy, but injuries take much longer to heal!
What you don't want to do is "bounce" during the stretch, fail to hold your stretch, or "explode" into (or out of) a stretch. Remember that all of this is to be done gradually, under control, and with the simple intention of loosening your muscles to prepare for your upcoming workout.
Which Stretches Should I Do?
For a good list and diagrams on stretches you can do, visit Bodybuilding.com Stretching Database! It won't take too long to do, and it will help you improve your flexibility significantly.
What Should Go In My Gym Bag?
For anyone who goes to the gym and takes weight training even somewhat seriously, there seems to be one staple: the gym bag!
While you will have your preferences for colors, styles, and sizes, there are a few things which should be in your bag. In order to help all of the novices in weight training (and a few of you seasoned pros!), here is the Gym Bag Checklist:
- If your gym has lockers, bring a lock. It can be lock-and-key setup, a combination lock, or some other lock. Even if you train at a gym without lockers (like Metroflex), keep one in your bag just in case you have to train somewhere else which does not have a de facto "Code Of Honor" among its members!
- If possible, have a gym bag which has a separate compartment for your wallet (money clip), keys, cell phone, etc. It happens all the time, but when a guy is in a hurry after lifting - and his keys fall to the bottom of his gym bag - it seems that all of his dirty clothes get thrown over other people's items in the locker room in his haste to answer the phone! And if you are serious about weight training, be sure to leave the cell phone in your bag when lifting. Have some courtesy!
- A spare towel. If you lift at a gym which offers paper towels to wipe up after you finish using a piece of equipment then use them; but bring a towel just in case. Even if your gym offers paper towels, you can use your towel to dry your hands since most commercial gyms forbid the use of chalk even if you are going to do a heavy lift requiring a good grip, like the deadlift. Just remember to wash the towel every once in a while!
- Powerlifting gear (if you use it).
- Any special weight training devices you use. These could include Lifting straps, Lifting hooks, Barbell attachments such as the Manta Ray, Magnetic plates in "fractional amounts" (e.g. less than 2-1/2 pounds).
- Assuming you are following proper nutrition for your fitness goals be sure to bring your post-workout shake/powder in a shaker cup unless you have an alternative. Keep any other recommended post-workout supplementation (e.g. glutamine or creatine) with you in your gym bag. This is so that you can have your post-workout nutrition available to consume as quickly as you can after you finish lifting.
- Log book/Training Journal and a pen. This is self-explanatory, unless you can remember the exercises, repetitions, and weights used and then record them later at home or at the office.
- Weight lifting belt. If you use a belt, be sure to include it in your gym bag the night before.
- Any other items you use regularly should be in your gym bag before you go to the gym.
One final note on basic gym courtesy: if you are training and see that someone obviously left some personal equipment behind by accident (lifting belt, gloves, etc.), have the etiquette to turn them into the front desk before you leave. This little gesture goes a long way, doesn't cost you anything, and raises your value in the gym as someone who can be trusted.
Besides, if you left behind a $90 lifting belt by accident wouldn't you want someone to give it to the front desk? Make someone else's day and do the same!
Now that you understand the importance of stretching lets discuss some of the smaller details involved in making your transformation. Move to the next article to learn this important steps to making your transformation successful.