There is nothing quite as uncomfortable as stiff, tight and sore muscles. I’ve dealt with tight muscles and muscle soreness for years. My quality of health has been saved by the fact that I've been able to develop a stretching routine to control the problem of tightness.
I feel it would be valuable for people to hear how I’ve incorporated flexibility training into my daily routine. I’m a naturally stiff person, so I need to consistently stretch in order to maintain any sort of flexibility. It seems to be a common story that I’ve heard from a wide range of people, all of us have had to make adjustments to our lifestyles due to low levels of mobility and flexibility.
Flexibility exercises and daily stretching has since become a part of my life to keep a pain-free healthy body. There is a huge percentage of the population would benefit from incorporating stretching, yoga, and flexibility exercises into our daily routine in order to to maintain a pain-free lifestyle.
I have an active surfer and also played every other sport I could find time for. This has been the dominant interest of mine for as long as I can remember.
We should learn to look after our bodies from a young age
Stretching exercises while playing soccer and rugby when I was a child involved a few leg stretches, often touching our toes and a basic warm up before games and training. Unless they’re stretching daily most young people are going to stiffen up as they age. Because of all the sports, and the lack of stretching over the years, my muscles became overly tight and stiff. By the time I turned fourteen, I was incredibly stiff and developing lower back pains. Each time I came in from a surfing session I would be experiencing pain and soreness.
How could it be that a healthy fourteen-year-old boy was developing lower back pain? That’s supposed to problems for the elderly isn’t it? It appeared not. Muscle pain and back problems can affect anyone at any age, and I found this out at a young age.
A Painfully Stiff Back Can Affect Anyone at Any Age
I was lucky enough to know an excellent physiotherapist who was able to point me in the right direction. We were able to develop a stretching routine to help improve my flexibility and eliminate the back pain I was experiencing. Within a few months, I had improved my flexibility a huge amount by performing stretching exercises daily combined with visiting a yoga school.
Yoga classes were a huge factor in improving my flexibility. I began attending yoga classes twice weekly where my mother was teaching Hatha Yoga. The first classes I attended were very difficult as I couldn’t manage to sit with my legs stretched straight out in front of me. My hamstrings had almost no flexibility. These first few months of stretching and yoga were extremely uncomfortable and painful, due to my leg muscles having almost no flexibility.
With the twice daily stretching and flexibility exercise, combined with the two weekly yoga classes, I was able to totally eliminate all my back pain and stiffness. I actually became flexible. I didn’t think that would be possible for an ultra-stiff guy like me. When I first started, my hamstrings were so stiff I could barely touch my knees. I went from the stiffest kid in my school to the most flexible in under a year of disciplined training involving my stretching routine and Yoga.
As I started to enjoy this new found flexibility, I attended the Swami Sarivarti Yoga Teacher Training programs to continue learning and to continue progressing in my flexibility and Yoga training. This was a great learning experience, I started to really understand stretching, flexibility and the 8 limbs of yoga.
When I was eighteen, I noticed that muscle stiffness was a common problem among young people. I realized that I wasn’t the only one dealing with these issues. There was a group of friends from the local gym that
I knew how much your life could improve once you developed flexibility and were able to shake off aches and pains so I started a stretching, flexibility, and yoga class at a local gym to help my friends improve flexibility. It can greatly improve your quality of life when you increase your flexibility, and it can allow you to live free from stiffness and pain.
It wasn’t until l was in my early twenties that I began to take my flexibility for granted. I started to stretch less and sometimes not at all. I stopped doing my yoga classes and got sucked into the trap of working too much, traveling constantly, and not listening to my body’s signals that it needed stretching and flexibility exercises to keep it healthy and subtle.
When flexibility goes from bad to worse
In 2009, I had returned to Australia from Brazil and was working in construction, trying to get back on my feet in Sydney. I had totally stopped stretching and was in a routine of working, sports, surfing, and going out with friends. I was living a great lifestyle but I had totally ignored all the warning signs my body was giving me. These signs were pointing out that I was getting to a stage where I was at an increased risk of injury.
I began feeling my lower back and hamstrings stiffening over the months. I knew that I had been neglecting my flexibility, but I was living a fast-paced lifestyle where I had put my body’s health and flexibility on the back burner. It felt like my hamstrings were stopping my lower back from being as mobile as it should be.
My friend and I had been surfing all morning and were relaxing on the beach with a group of friends, kicking a football around and checking the waves. I bent over and twisted to pick up the football and I felt a pop and felt a seizing sensation in my lower back. I knew immediately that I was in trouble.
My hips and lower back were totally seized up, leaving me with a sharp shooting pain down my right. I was barely able to work, surfing was out of the question, and even driving a car seemed to cause immense pain.
I started to get back a few of the aches and pains that I had managed to sort out with some basic yoga and stretching techniques. Unfortunately, I still ignored all of the warning signs that I was putting my body under too much pressure. I was working long hours in construction, surfing, playing soccer, practicing jiu-jitsu and traveling. I had not been listening to any of the signals that had begun to develop.
I knew that I was becoming really inflexible again, but as my life had become busy and my priorities changed. Unfortunately, it seems to become very common to put our health and fitness low on our list of priorities while we are working hard, and doing things for other people seems to end up on top of the list.
After weeks of speaking with and getting treatment from doctors, osteopaths, yoga teachers and physiotherapists I learned that I had pinched a nerve. This was the result of too much physical strain and not continuing to stretch, engage in yoga practice, or really any kind of training to maintain flexibility. All of the muscles in my hips and legs were incredibly stiff.
I knew that I had made a huge mistake as by ignoring my stiff body. It had been trying to let me know that I needed to maintain my flexibility. It became too easy to just ignore all the signs while I was caught up in my busy life.
I was frustrated with myself. I already knew how to maintain a healthy back and body. I had been working on my flexibility since I was a teenager after all. I had totally ignored all the signs that I was becoming too stiff and in danger of an injury and because of it I was back to square one again.
Luckily for me, I had the help of my physiotherapist. We were able to come up with a stretching program designed to loosen all the required muscles in my body. It especially targeted my back and legs in order to loosen the muscles surrounding the sciatic nerve. I was able to develop a great stretching program that relieved the pain I was feeling. When you are afflicted with nerve pain it can be difficult to imagine ever being pain-free again, but as soon as I began the twice daily flexibility training I began to feel the pain begin to slowly subside.
Keeping a busy schedule requires a flexibility program in order to maintain a healthy body
Why is flexibility so important?
Flexibility is all too often the most undervalued aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Everyone’s lifestyle can benefit from flexibility training.
Flexibility can help maintain good posture, minimize muscle soreness, enhance joint mobility, and prevent injuries. As you work on progressing with a stretching routine you will develop a greater range or motion in the joint and surrounding muscles.
Anyone who is active in sports should be aware of the benefits surrounding flexibility training. There are a lot of case studies that prove that the chance of injury will decrease when people incorporate flexibility training into their fitness routines. This is due to the greater range of motion that is developed in their muscle and joints.
When flexibility is incorporated into a well-designed training program, you will become more in-tune with your mental and physical state. This allows you to know their limits and to know how far you can push yourself safely. It is also a great way to achieve an active relaxation that will help with your physical and mental recovery.
What if you are not a top level athlete, is flexibility really so important?
Of course. It is probably even more important than to the everyday person. If you are an athlete performing regularly there is a good chance you are already involved in some sort of stretching routine into your training to avoid injury.
For the everyday person with a busy life schedule of work and families, it is easy to let your flexibility deteriorate. I definitely know how easy it was, my flexibility had taken a back seat and fallen back on my priority list. This common story never has a good outcome.
Flexibility is as important to elite athletes as it is for a busy mother or a fifty hour a week office worker. Flexibility is especially important to prevent injury in everyday life. Day to day activities such as getting out of bed, bending over to pick something up, carrying your child, or cleaning the car can all lead to serious injury if you are excessively stiff.
We tend to fall into bad posture habits and our muscles and joints can lose their mobility. Once flexibility and mobility deteriorate to a certain point, all our beloved activities become more and more difficult until you’ll find yourself dealing with muscle soreness, and eventually this can lead to injury and pain.
Once you leave it on the back burner for too long and allow yourself to become injured, the road to recovery is a long and painful. The reward for maintaining flexibility is that you can live a healthy pain-free life up until your twilight years. All it takes is spending that little bit of time on yourself required to keep your body flexible.
It is widely known that maintaining a flexible body will greatly reduce the chance that you develop debilitating chronic back pain. If you ever have the chance to speak to anyone who is suffering from back pain, ask them how the pain affects them. They are willing to do just about anything to solve the problem and live pain-free again.
The problem is that once you have let your mobility deteriorate to a certain point, it will be a strenuous and difficult journey on the path to becoming pain-free again. This often leaves people requiring strong analgesics or possibly going into surgery to try and solve the issue.
Maintain Flexibility to Keep Doing What You Love
I have just spent the winter in Hawaii, pushing myself into surfing the biggest waves of my life. This was an ‘El Nino’ year, the currents warm up in the northern hemisphere which creates huge swells in the northern hemisphere.
This year led to one of the biggest and best seasons in history, there seemed to be constant, massive swells hitting the Hawaiian Islands and making huge waves that crashed into the Hawaiian shoreline. Especially in a famous place called Waimea Bay.
There are always professional surfers in the water at Waimea Bay, testing themselves against the waters. They all have their own stretching routines to warm up for the huge waves and are in peak fitness, as you would expect.
What I did not expect though was the group of fifty to sixty-year-olds surfing magnificently and even outdoing the professional surfers. There are twenty to thirty-foot waves, the might of the whole Pacific Ocean behind them and they move at incredible speeds. When you fall from these waves you can be thrown around violently. You will be underwater with little control of what happens to your body. Limbs can be pulled in all directions and you will be pushed deep under water.
These guys have managed to stay in peak physical condition well into their sixties, and they continue dominating some of most difficult surfing conditions in the world. They have all lived them through their lives maintaining their flexibility through stretching and yoga training. They are a great example of what is possible if you maintain your flexibility and mobility into the years you previously thought were for complaining about aches and pains from a rocking chair.
When you speak with these guys, you realize that the one thing they all have in common is that they have all continued their regular stretching exercises to maintain mobility and avoid injury. This keeps their body and mind in tune and healthy.
That is why maintaining a healthy flexible body is so important. You can go about your daily habits, routines, sports and hobbies pain-free and feeling great. You’ll be able to make the most out of every single day and continue doing what you love right into your beautiful twilight years.
As they say prevention is always the best cure.
Maintain flexibility and keep charging into your 60s
There seems to be 2 routes that people take in life regarding flexibility and mobility. The quality of life will result in vastly different out comes.
# 1- Ignore The Body
The first path that most busy people follow is to continue to live a busy life everything in life but ignoring their bodies aches and pains that are letting you know that something isn’t right. These aches and pains will never relent unless you take action and improve flexibility and joint mobility. What seems to happen is that lack of mobility will lead to injuries and taking medication become the only option to relieve the pain.
# 2 -Take the time for yourself
Start to listen to your body, if you feel like to are starting to get stiff and sore. Stop take some time for yourself to maintain your flexibility and mobility. Develop a stretching routine to do at home in the lounge room, go to the beach or a park for 20 mins. Even better become part of a yoga school and visit regularly. Maintain your flexibility and keep being active and pain free for your whole life.
I know I’m always inspired when I see older people keeping active and doing what they love doing into an age that we never used to think possible.
This is an example of what the body is capable of if you maintain a flexibility into the grandfather/elderly years
Types of flexibility and stretching
Dynamic stretching is almost the opposite of static stretching. As static stretching involves holding a position with almost no movement. Dynamic Stretching can be defined as “ stretching with movement “
Dynamic stretching is a a form of stretching that is hugely beneficial as a warm up to prepare for physical activity and sports. A good dynamic stretching routines will prepare the body for physical exertion and peak sports performance and also reduce the risk of injury as the muscle will be warm and ready to perform at a hard pace. As the dynamic stretches are performed there is a supply of oxygen and blood flow to the soft tissues before the muscle are placed under full exertion.
In the past it was thought that static stretching was best warm up for sports and physical exertion. Studies have now show that static stretches have a negative effect on the strength and explosive output from static stretching.
Dynamic stretching will improve your flexibility by improving the motions of the joints in the body to try enhance the bodies performance and minimise injury. Some of the best flexibility stretches are proven to be dynamic stretches.
Static stretching will help maintain and improve flexibility and mobility in the body. It is great to counteract the pressures we put on the body day to day at work, sports and living a busy life. Static stretching will lengthen the muscles; relieve pressure on joints and muscle and improve balance and well being. Static stretching, if carried out correctly, is also going to help reduce stress and tension.
Static stretching is a stretch where you lengthen a muscle until the furthest comfortable point from a stationary position where the body is rested. A point where you can feel the muscle being stretched but do not experience any discomfort. You don’t need to feel pain to be getting benefits from any stretching exercises.
Hold the static stretch for between 10 seconds ( 3 deep breaths) and 2 mins in a comfortable position with no bouncing or jerking movement to see the best results. Breath calmly and deeply into the position and try relax being aware of the muscle that is being elongated. As you exhale you can go deeper into the stretch. You only need to feel a gentle pull on the muscle. You should not feel any pain or fire like sensations in the muscle. If you do just ease off. More is not always best. You want to aim for gradual improvement. Every time you stretch your muscles you are benefiting.
Tips and guidelines for stretching and flexibility training
Having a wide range of motion in a joint and all your muscles is going to help you avoid unwanted injuries and minimise your body from developing aches and pains. While performing these stretches and routines it is important to make sure you are progressing in a safe and intelligent way to see the best results.
Here is a list of basic tips and guidelines to help you progress in the best possible way.
- Never push too hard, work within your limits
- Aim to perform flexibility exercises for each muscle group to gain total-body improvement
- Remember to breath comfortably. If you find yourself panting relax a bit until you can breath deeply and comfortably
- Make sure your your muscles are warmed up before you go into any deep stretches
- As you are holding a stretch you can push a little further with the exhale
- Never use jerky or bouncy movements when holding a position
- Always breath calmly during flexibility workouts
- As you develop and improve your flexibility you will be able to reach further into each position. A mild stretch on the muscle is what you are aiming for. If you experience any sharp shooting pain your are pushing too far.
- Only exercise positions that you will feel comfortable with. There is no need to push to hard and get injuries whist trying to prevent injuries
Stretching and Flexibility Warm Up Exercises
Below is a great guide of stretches for flexibility and warm up exercises to avoid injuries.Aiming to help you develop a flexibility training program.
Dynamic Warm Up Stretches
- Laying on the floor come on to your elbows keeping your body in a straight line
- Keep the head in line with body, chin tucked in looking at the ground
- Use core to keep the body straight
- Feet slightly separated
- Holde for 30 seconds - 1 min
- Start on your side with you your elbow bent under the shoulder
- Feet stacked together
- Push hips up and prop onto your elbow
- Keep the body in straight line from your head to the feet
- Hold for 30 secs - 1 min
- Repeat opposite side
Pillar Plank With Arm Lift
- Start from the pillar position ( push position), looking down, toes on the ground, arms straight with palms facing down, fingers pointing forward
- Tighten and core as you reach forward alternately with each hand
- Raise hold arm over head for 2 seconds at a time
- Maintain the hips and shoulders squarely to the floor throughout the exercise
- Repeat 5 times to each side
Alternate hip flexion
- Start in the push up position
- Hands directly below shoulders and and feet shoulder width apart
- Bringing knees alternately in towards the chest and returning feet back to the starting position
- keeping core engaged
- When carrying out reps always keep one foot in contact with the floor
- Start laying on your back
- Bend knees and place soles on the ground
- Lift hips towards the ceiling
- Create a line that is straight from the knees, hips and shoulders
- Reach with the left hand touching the ground on the right side of your head
- Repeat alternately 10 times to each side
Bridge with leg extension
- Starting from the extended bridge position- Knees bent, soles down
- Lift hips towards ceiling- straight line from the knees through to the shoulders
- Alternatly extending legs- holding for 2 seconds each side
- keep head on the ground and the core engaged through-out the movement
- Repeat 10 times to each side
- Start from standing with feet shoulder width apart
- Exhale as you lower the hips and squat until the thighs are parallel to the ground
- keep the back straight
- Inhale as you return to the starting position
- Practice the exercise in a slow and steady movement
- Repeat 15 repetitions
- Start standing with feet slightly wider than shoulder width
- Perform a squat with thighs to go parallel with the ground (a 90 degree bend in the knee if possible)
- Perform a vertical jump
- Perform the jump in fluid movement looking for solid technique rather than height
- When landing soften the knees for minimal impact
- 5 repititons
- Start with your right leg in front and the left leg at 45 degrees behind
- Hands on the hips as you lower the body and knee towards the ground with out letting the knee touch the ground
- Keep good posture and lower and raise in a slow and steady movement
- Repeat 10 times to each side
lower back stretches
leg rotation on back
- Lie on back with your knees bent feet on the floor
- knees together and arms by the side of the body
- Interlock the fingers of both hands and place the palms under the back of the head
- As you exhale drop knees to the right trying to bring the knees al the way to the floor
- At the same time, gently turn the head and neck to the opposite as the legs
- As you inhale raise the legs to an up right position
- Make sure you keep the shoulders and elbows on the group through the exercise
Extension while lying on stomach ( Cobra )
- Place your palms flat on the floor beside your shoulders
- Take a deep breath in and lift your upper body and look to the ceiling
- Arch the entire back using the back muscles, using the arms for minimal support
- Breath out and gently return to starting position with forehead on the floor
Knees to chest
- Lie on your back
- Bend your knees so your soles are flat on the floor
- Bring your knees towards chest using your hands to pull the knees tight into the body
- Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 3 times
- Come onto your hands and knees, hands under the shoulders, fingers facing forward
- The arms and thighs should be vertical to the floor. This is the starting position
- Inhale while raising the head and depressing the spine so that the back becomes concave
- Exhale, while lowering the head and stretching the spine upward
- Repeat five times
Half spinal twist
- Sit with both legs out stretched, Keep spine upright
- Bend the right leg and place the right foot on the floor on outside of the left knee
- Bend the left leg and bring the heel towards the buttock ( You can also leave the left leg straight if this is more comfortable)
- Adjust the position to ensure a comfortable stretch in the hips
- Right hand is now placed on the floor behind your back on the floor
- Bring your left arm forward to hug right thigh towards your chest
- Turn your shoulders and neck to look over your right shoulder
- Hold the position and breath for 1- 2 mins
- Exhaling release the right hand and returning to the centre
- Repeat to the opposite side
bicep wall stretch
- Place the palm and shoulder of your right arm against a wall
- With the arm in line with the wall, exhale and slowly turn your body to face forward feeling the stretch down the length of the bicep and chest
- You can adjust the palm position higher or lower on the wall to adjust the stretch
- Repeat on opposite side
Tricep - Hands point down spine
- Inhale as you extend right arm over head, exhale as you point and extent the right hand and fingers down the centre of the back
- Use the left hand to hold the right elbow
- Gently pulling downward on your elbow to move your fingers down the spine
- Release the right elbow, give the arms a shake and repeat on the opposite side
- Step onto your left foot and take hold of your right ankle and raise towards the buttocks
- As you inhale slowly pull your heel towards your glutes, Aiming to point you knee to the ground as your wish your pelvis forward
- Keep you body upright, if you lean forward you will lessen the stretch
- Keeping your balance hold the position for 30 seconds and repeat 3 times to each opposite side
- Leg stretching exercises are great for starting to loosen the lower back muscles
- Tight leg muscles can lead to a sore lower back
Standing Straight Leg stretch
- Find a chair, cool or table that is 50- 70 cm high or 1 half - 2 feet
- Leave 1 foot on the floor and place the other foot onto the chair with the leg straightened
- keeping the back straight lean forward onto the stool feeling the stretch up the back of the hamstring
- Hold for 25- 30 seconds
- Repeat on 3 times to each side
- Practice twice daily to improve your flexibility faster
Hurdler hamstring stretch
- Sitting on the floor with legs straight out in front
- Bend your left leg and place the sole of the foot in the right inner thigh
- Inhale as you raise your arms over the head
- Exhale as you extend forward over the right straightened leg bending from the hips and taking hold of your thigh, shin or foot
- Inhaling g as you raise your arms and straightening your spine
- Repeat 3 times to each side
- On the 3rd time hold the position for 30-45 seconds and as you exhale push a little deeper into the stretch
- Hamstring exercises are an excellent way to warm up and avoid injuies
Upside Down V Stretch - down ward facing dog
- Begin the hands and knees on the ground
- Come into the toes
- An you exhale push the floor away and lift your knees off the floor and your hips to the ceiling coming in to an upside down v-pose, like a dog stretching in the morning
- To begin you can walk the feet alternately off the ground. From heels to toes feeling a stretch up the entire back of the hamstrings
- Then if you are comfortable straighten both legs, dropping both heels on the floor, Straighten the legs but be aware not to lock them
- Firmly push the palms and index fingers into the floor feeling the stretch of the shoulder blade into the back
- Keep the head balanced in between the arms making sure it does to hang low
- Maintain a lengthened spine while stretching the back of the legs backwards
- You may not be able to get the heels al the way to the floor. Just go to where feels comfortable
Cross body shoulder stretch
- While standing cross your right shoulder across your chest
- Using your left arm pull your right arm into your opposite shoulder and chest keeping your right arm straight
- To extend the stretch look over your right shoulder
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat each side 3 times
Standing interlock fingers shoulder stretch
- Standing tall interlock fingers behind the back
- Feet hip width apart
- Breathing in raise hands and arms upwards to a comfortable position
- Exhale lower the arms back towards the lower back
- Repeat 5 times
Hip stretching exercises
- lay on the floor with your right leg bent and your left leg straight extended behind you. stretching the hip toward the floor
- Moving the right foot forward or bringing the right heel towards the hips until you find a comfortable position to stretch the hip
- Placing your palms down in front of the knees
- Breathing in straighten arms, raise head shoulders and spine
- Exhale as your walk your hands away and allow the upper body to rest over the knee
- Resting here and take at least 5 deep breaths into the position
- Repeat the position on the opposite side