Stretching is one of my least favorite activities. It’s painful, it’s boring and it takes forever. It’s also entirely necessary if I expect to keep running triathlons, half-marathons and more races in the future.
I’m learning this the hard way. This whole week I’ve been hobbling around since tweaking my IT band early last week and making it even worse during the half-marathon. It was so bad I could barely stand on my left leg Sunday, and spend most of the day flat on my back. However, over the last 5 days I’ve been able to go from barely being able to stand up, to actually being able to walk places without not-so-subtle limp by following a consistent stretching routine. It’s going to take a few more days to get back to normal, but I’m getting there. As I’ve been limping around this week, the importance of stretching in my life has been seared into my head. Even if you’re not a runner or athlete, stay with me on this one…I’m not just talking about stretching muscles.
Why You Need To Stretch
There are three main reasons that are regularly given for why you should be regularly stretching.
- Stretching makes you more flexible. The more you stretch, the more your muscles’ range of motion expands and the more flexible you become.
- Stretching makes you stronger. As your range of motion expands, it allows more of your muscles to be recruited into whatever process you’re using
- Stretching can help keep you from getting hurt.
I don’t want to make this a clinic on stretching. If you want that, read Wikipedia. I’m also not a doctor so don’t sue me for any of this, but as I was going through these reasons for muscular stretching, I realized how similar muscular stretching is to life stretching.
Life stretching is the practice of regularly pushing yourself in your daily life. In life stretching, you consistently stretch your preconceived ideas, your boundaries of what you think is possible. Life stretching tends to have a lot of the same benefits as actual muscular stretching:
- It makes you more flexible
- It makes you stronger
- It keeps you from getting hurt.
Just like stretching your muscles, life stretching increases the types of things you do. With this increased range of activities, you become more flexible as you have to learn how to constantly adapt to new activities. Also, once you start life stretching you have a greater variety of activities and experiences to draw from. These experiences make you stronger as you’re able to use that additional information down the road in order to problem solve. That combination of flexibility and strength allow you to stretch and push yourself even further while simultaneously helping make sure you don’t get hurt. With a broader set of experiences, you begin to learn which experiences, risks and stretches you should do which will push you towards your goals and which risks just aren’t smart and will just end up getting you hurt.
Regularly stretch yourself. Regularly do things you wouldn’t normally do. That’s the core of life stretching. Unfortunately, life stretching tends to have the same hurdles to implementation as muscular stretching:
- It requires putting yourself in uncomfortable and sometimes awkward positions.
- It usually hurts for short periods of time.
- You have to do it at regular intervals to see results over a period of time.
I’m convinced that there’s an inverse relationship between the quality of stretch and the ridiculous contortion of your body. The best stretches will make you look awkward. Just like your muscles, the times you’ll grow the most in your life will be when you feel a little awkward. Also, because you’re not used to being in that position, you’re going to feel a little pain. People will laugh, you’ll get embarrassed, or you’ll fail and it will hurt. But that period of pain is short. Pretty soon it’s over and you’ll move on to something else. The bad news is you’ll have to revisit that pain in different ways, by doing different things in order to see improvement. However, if you do it right, over time you’ll notice that things that once were incredibly hard don’t seem so hard anymore. Your tolerance builds and your thirst to try new stretches continues to grow.
5 Quick Stretches
- Do something you’ve never done before.
- Go somewhere you’ve never gone before.
- Talk to someone you’ve never talked to before.
- Eat something you’ve never eaten before.
- Try a hobby you’ve never tried before.
Put yourself out of place. It will hurt and when it does, instead of running away, breathe and stay calm. Feel the stretch, enjoy it and then do it again. Every time, try to go a little farther than you did before or find a new way to stretch yourself.
After a while, you’ll notice those stretches you used to do aren’t so hard or painful anymore. You might actually start start to enjoy what you used to think was painful.
Keep growing. Stretch regularly.[Photo By Aye_Shamus]