Ok guys so we all know the importance of performing a regular stretch routine to supplement your strength or cardio training. Just in case you need a little reminder, here’s just a few benefits of stretching and improving your flexibility:
- Achieving optimum flexibility helps eliminate inefficient movement patterns by allowing joints to move freely through their full range of motion. What’s the point in lifting heavy if you have hardly any range of motion in that squat? Or if that squat feels horrendously uncomfortable on your hips or spine? By achieving higher levels of flexibility we can move more functionally and freely; this only increasing your sports performance.
- By allowing the body to be flexible this can reduce the risk of injury. Flexibility can decrease the incidence of muscle tears resulting from tight muscles on one or both sides of a joint.
- It enhances the ability to perform various movement skills. The better your movement pattern, the better your training.
- It can help prevent common problems seen in individuals with poor flexibility, e.g. lower back pain potentially resulting from tight quadriceps, iliopsoas, and back muscles (and possibly a thereafter weak abdominals and hamstrings).
Flexibility is one of the most common factors that gym goers and cardio bunnies alike put pretty low on their priority list. Myself included. Stretching up until recent years always seemed to me like a little (pretty boring) add on to my training. Now it’s fundamental. I like many others have probably learned the hard way. My injury before the marathon had a lot to do with my body mechanics and tightness in my glutes and quadriceps. When we neglect our flexibility training, sooner or later this can lead to injury. Flexibility training allows the muscles to extend into their full range of motion.
So where does yoga come into it?
I am obviously biased having always loved yoga a recently qualified as a yoga teacher. However, I can honestly say the less yoga I do, the more injured I get! No coincidence if you ask me.
Although I would certainly never suggest yoga as a replacement to a well programmed stretch routine, the benefits you receive will certainly help you on your flexibility quest. Yoga is so much more than a “stretch”. However it does make you move your body through its ranges of motion. It makes you slow down. It makes you listen to your body. Spending some quality time on your mat allows for huge benefits to your training, here’s a few of them:
The focus on Ujjayi breathing throughout the practice allows for prana (breath) to flow more freely throughout the body. This encourages better circulation of the blood around the body. In our day to day lives the circulation can become restricted in certain areas. The lubrication in our joints also drys up as a result of the ageing process. By breathing and taking the body through its full range of motions it can allow better blood flow throughout the body. With regular practice this will help with the range of motion too. The breath is inherent in the practice to allow us to deepen into our asana (postures), extended into our full range of motion and flexibility. During an exhalation the diaphragm pushes up against the heart, slowing down the heart rate. Blood pressure decreases, as does stress on the rib cage, abdominal walls, and intercostal muscles. Relaxation is present and thereafter your tolerance to stretching is enhanced.
2) Decreased Risk of Injury
Yoga allows the body to be more supple decreasing the risk of injury
3) Healing the Body
By stimulating blood flow around the body it can help promote healing in the body as a result of increase blood supply to injured areas.
Yoga allows us to listen and gaze inwardly towards our body. By listening to our body we can ascertain what areas feel stiff and tight and in need of some TLC. This can inform our yoga practice and the asanas we use to help relieve this stiffness.
5) Time Dedicated to Flexibility
By factoring yoga into my schedule I know that no matter what I have at least 60 minutes of time dedicated to listening to my body and working it throughs its full range of motion and thereafter developing my flexibility.
6) Dynamic Range of Motion and Enhanced Mobility
These are both effected by healthy stimulation of fascia. Yoga allows for this stimulation. Stretching stimulates the production of tissue lubricants, allowing for full range of motion across all of the functional planes. Generally we describe the body as moving in three planes of motion – the Frontal, Saggital and Transverse planes. A lot of modern day workouts have a heavy focus on one or two of these planes of motion (usually the frontal or saggital plane). Yoga focuses on all three. Succinctly speaking our bodies need to move through all three planes of motion in training to simulate what we do in our day to day lives. By training the planes of motion we can allow our body to move functionally.
How to Use it with Your Training
What people do mistakenly think is that yoga is just “stretching”. I have been guilty of thinking that yoga substitutes a stretching programme. It shouldn’t; there’s no short cuts to flexibility. You have to put in time to stretching, to foam rolling, to dynamic mobility but yoga is a wonderful supplement to these aspects and goes along way to help with flexibility. Although yoga is so much more than the flexibility, for gym bunnies, runners and cyclists alike it can provide the bridge between training, flexibility and dynamic functional movement in the body. You don’t have to even go to classes – although this can really help when you start up. There’s a whole host of yoga videos available on the internet. Even if you start with a 10 minute one a couple of times a week it’s something.
What if You’re Not a ‘Yogi’?
I recently taught a lovely bunch of runners from the LDN Brunch Club at Lululemon in Spitalfields. They couldn’t tell me enough how much their legs and hips were thanking me for the yoga the next day. They weren’t necessarily avid yogi’s but certainly saw the benefit to their bodies. So even if you think yoga isn’t “your thing”, or you don’t ‘dig’ the spiritual aspect of it, you might just find that it can serve you in another way bringing you that inward focus and slow down that your body so craves after your intense training sessions. Why not give it ago?
If you are in London, come and join me on the mat for FREE! I am currently teaching at Method Movement in Chelsea, Wednesdays 8.30-9.30am and Saturdays 9-10am. Spots book up fast and sign up is a must! Sign up here if you’re interested in coming along!
Till next time….
Sending health & happiness,
Photographer: Dominic Marley
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