Stretch Your Limits! And Your Body, Too
According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased 83% since 1950, and the average American office worker sits for 15 hours each day. For many of us, this issue has become even more pronounced in our new normal of working from home, and this sedentary lifestyle is wreaking havoc on our mobility and flexibility. That decrease in both is leading to an increase in injuries, muscle weakness, poor posture, joint pain and back problems. What to do about it? Stretch! Today, tomorrow, the day after, and the day after that. It can take weeks to increase mobility and flexibility, and once a greater level is achieved, it needs to be maintained. But in the long run, it is the key to moving well and feeling good, and ultimately, to maintaining independence.
What is the Difference Between Mobility and Flexibility?
Very simply, mobility pertains to joints, while flexibility pertains to muscles. More precisely, mobility is defined as the ability of a joint to move actively through its full range of motion, without pain or discomfort, while flexibility refers to the ability of a muscle or muscle group to passively lengthen fully. If you cannot bend forward and touch your toes, that is a lack of flexibility; your hamstrings are tight, and therefore short, rendering you unable to reach your feet. If, during your best squat, you can’t drop your rear end below the level of your knees, that’s a lack of mobility. Your hips, knees and ankles are unable to move to their full ranges of motion. But mobility and flexibility do go hand in hand; it doesn’t matter how flexible or stretchy your muscles are if your joints won’t allow the full range of motion.
What is Static Stretching?
Static stretches are those in which you stand, sit or lie in a single position for a longer period of time, typically greater than 30 seconds, and repeat each stretch multiple times. Static stretches should be used as a cool-down after a workout to increase flexibility, decrease soreness, improve muscle recovery and prevent injury. Examples include a head-to-knee seated forward fold, seated butterfly stretch, overhead triceps stretch, standing quadriceps stretch and downward-facing dog. It is also important to note that static stretching should not be done before a workout, as it can negative impact performance by reducing your body’s ability to react quickly.
What is Dynamic Stretching?
Dynamic stretches are active yet controlled movements that take joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles through their full ranges of motion. They are not held for a length of time. These movement focus on mobility and can be done after long periods of time sitting at your desk or in a car to work out kinks, or as pre-workout warmup to improve speed, agility and acceleration. Dynamic stretches include leg swings, hip circles, spinal rotations, cat and cow stretches, bird dogs, quadruped rocks and arm circles.
Don’t Forget to Warm Up
If you have been sitting for a long period of time or just feel very stiff, it is beneficial to warm up the body to get the blood flowing to the joints and muscles before you do any kind of stretching. Cycling or light jogging for five to 10 minutes should be sufficient for you to crack a sweat, which is how you know your body is ready for stretching. If you don’t have the inclination to try that short cardio warmup, consider foam-rolling your muscles instead to release tightness before you stretch. Roll each muscle group side-to-side and up and down for 15 seconds each to increase blood flow to the area.
What Affects Mobility and Flexibility?
It is a common misconception that young people don’t have to worry about their mobility and flexibility. And while both can decrease with age, a lack of physical activity, too much sitting, daily stress, lack of sleep and poor diet can inhibit mobility and flexibility at any age. Both can also be affected by other factors, such as activity level, hydration level, injury, or excessive muscle or fat tissue surrounding joints.