Are You In Balance?

The Importance of Posture and Stretching
Regardless of your level of physical activity, most people can benefit from a stretching and flexibility program.
Whether you’re looking to participate in some form of physical activity or need more range of movement for your everyday activities, stretching can help reduce the incidence of injury, improve your flexibility and performance and improve your posture. Stretching and Flexibility training is not just for athletes and sportspeople and not everyone needs to be flexible enough to twist themselves in knots. Stretching is an individual thing and not everyone needs to stretch the same muscles. Often, people stretch the muscles that don’t feel tight because it’s easy and feels good, rather than the ones that do need stretching!

So why stretch?

In today’s ever efficient and automated world, many people have jobs which require them to sit for a large part of their day. Add to this sitting in the car or bus to and from work, sitting for dinner, sitting when watching TV, day in, day out and it’s not surprising that before long you find it hard to get off the couch or tie their shoe laces. Without some form of stretching or movement on a regular basis to counterbalance all this sitting, your muscles become tight, reduce your flexibility and can result in muscle imbalances and poor posture. Over time, a lack of flexibility can affect your ability to carry out even simple everyday tasks like hanging the washing, picking up heavy objects or shopping bags or even putting your socks on in the morning. Many back injuries are the result of poor flexibility, muscle imbalances and tightness in the abdominals, hip, back and leg muscles.

The Posture Effect
So how can your posture affect your flexibility?
Good posture helps to keep your muscles in balance and your body functioning at an optimal level. Without it, extra strain can be placed on joints, muscles and tendons resulting in pain, injury and reduced flexibility. Poor posture can also result in a lack of support for your internal organs which may lead to a distended belly as the organs are squashed down so far that the only place they have to go is outward.
Muscles act as pumps to move fluid throughout the body and when the muscles aren’t functioning properly due to poor posture, breathing and circulation may also be compromised creating an environment where disease and dysfunction can arise. Poor posture is a result of short and tight, or long and weak (loose) muscles and always indicates a need for a stretching program. Essentially, this occurs because of injury or poor movement patterns or unbalanced loading (weight) which cause some muscles to shorten and contract (tighten) and others to do the opposite, becoming longer and weaker to counterbalance the load.

*As an example, consider a bicycle wheel that is out of balance. If you take the bicycle out for a ride, chances are it won’t be a smooth ride. The stress of riding on a crooked wheel could cause you to wobble and fall or the wheel to fall apart. In order to get a crooked bicycle wheel to roll straight or true, you must shorten and tighten the loose spokes and lengthen and loosen the tight ones. If you already have poor posture or tight muscles and plan to exercise, you need to ensure that you have a program in place to stretch and lengthen the short and tight muscles and strengthen and shorten the long and weak muscles.

Which muscles to stretch?
The most important thing to remember when stretching is…. if it isn’t tight, don’t stretch it!
There are many stretching checklists available in gyms, health clubs, from health professionals and on the internet but remember that your stretching program should be as individual as you are! If you attend a gym or health club, an essential part of your pre-exercise evaluation or health check should be an assessment of your individual posture and stretching needs and these should be incorporated into your program.

If you prefer to create your own stretching program, Paul Chek’s *”How to Eat, Move & Be Healthy!” contains a comprehensive stretching checklist along with instructions on how to complete each of the stretches you may need.
It is recommended that you re-visit your stretching checklist every 2 to 4 weeks as your existing stretching and strengthening activities may work so well that you no longer need to stretch some muscles and need to start stretching others.

When and how long to stretch
Stretching before you exercise allows your body to loosen tight muscles and helps to prepare your body for activity. Rather than an extended stretch, which may result in over stretching of the muscle and laxity in joints, it is recommended that you hold each stretch for 5 seconds, relax for 5 seconds and then repeat 5 times.
Stretching after exercise or activity is like stretching already loose spokes on a wheel – it will leave the body loose and imbalanced. Not stretching at all, leaves your body feeling tight and sore and over time, crooked and imbalanced.

When and how to strengthen
Having identified loose and weak muscles, you need to incorporate some form of strength activities for those muscles into your exercise program ensuring that you maintain correct movement patterns in order to avoid a re-occurrence of the imbalance. It is recommended that you consult an exercise or health professional for assistance in prescribing exercises for muscle imbalances and to ensure you create and train the correct movement patterns for your chosen activity.

Don’t Exercise?
Even if you don’t exercise or partake in regular physical activity, you can still benefit from a regular stretching program. Just 10 minutes a day can help reduce or alleviate the cause of some lower back, neck or shoulder pain, general stiffness and soreness resulting from muscular imbalance giving you more energy and freedom of movement.
As always, if you have an existing injury, experience pain other than general muscle soreness for an extended period or haven’t been active for some time it is always best to first consult your chosen health professional for a detailed assessment of your stretching and strengthening needs.

* “How To Eat, Move and Be Healthy!”, Copyright 2004,Paul Chek

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