Flexibility Exercises

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Flexibility Exercises

Postby patoco » Sun Jul 02, 2006 8:44 am

Flexibility Exercises

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Flexibility Exercise

Flexibility exercises use gentle, stretching movements to increase the length of your muscles and the effective range of motion in your joints. They may consist of a series of specific stretching exercises, or be part of a larger exercise program such as yoga or dance classes. Because one of the main goals of stretching is to lengthen the connective tissue surrounding your muscle fibers, flexibility exercises should be done after you've already warmed up your muscles with a few minutes of aerobic activity. A typical session involves a minute or two on each stretching exercise.

Although flexibility exercises don't offer the dramatic overall benefits of aerobic or resistance exercise, regular stretching (several times a week) can be an important way to maintain your body's mobility and freedom of movement, particularly as you get older. Stretching exercises can also improve your posture and are an essential part of effective long-term treatment for strained or chronically sore backs (one of the most common complaints among American adults).

Flexibility exercises can be an important part of an injury prevention or rehabilitation program if chronically tight muscle groups contribute to the problem. You may also find that a few minutes a day of gentle stretching can be very relaxing, physically and mentally.

Overview

If you regularly stretch your muscles after they're fully warmed up — at the end of an aerobic workout, for example — you can gradually increase their resting length by lengthening the connective tissue that surrounds your muscle fibers. Improving flexibility in this way will make movement easier and more fluid and can also help prevent back pain, tendonitis and other repetitive-motion injuries caused by tight muscles.

Only light stretches for limbering up should be done before beginning an exercise session — any flexibility gains from stretching when your muscles aren't fully warmed up are strictly temporary.

All stretching movements should be done slowly, to the point where you feel a gentle pleasant tension in the muscle being stretched. For an effective stretch, you need to hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds. Never bounce as you hold a stretch, because this will activate your stretch reflex (an automatic, protective contraction).

As you relax and hold the stretch, breathe easily through your nostrils and concentrate on maintaining a feeling of pleasant tension in your muscles. If you feel any pain, stop immediately.

The more often you stretch, the more you'll lengthen your muscles. For maximum benefits, do your stretching routine several times each week.

Calf Stretch

Stand comfortably with your hands on your hips, or place both hands on a wall (shoulder's width apart), and step forward with your right foot (about a half-shoulder's width). Bend both knees, keeping your feet flat on the floor, and shift your weight to your forward foot. Slowly lower your hips, until you feel a gentle stretching sensation in the calf muscle and Achilles tendon of your left (rear) leg. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.

Hip Flexor Stretch

Step forward with your left leg (about a shoulder's width), and — keeping your left foot flat on the ground — lower your right knee so that your knee and toe rest on the ground. Your left (forward) knee should be directly above your left ankle. Gently lower your right (rear) hip, until you feel a gentle stretching sensation in the front of the hip. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.

Hamstring Stretch

Sit comfortably on the floor with your right leg straight and your left leg bent, so that the sole of your left foot rests flat against the inside of your right leg. Slowly curl your upper body down toward your right knee until you feel a gentle stretching sensation in your right hamstring. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.

Shoulder Stretch

Standing comfortably, lace your fingers behind your back so that your palms are facing in toward your spine, thumbs pointing down at the ground. Slowly raise your linked hands up toward the ceiling, keeping your neck and back relaxed, until you feel a gentle stretching sensation in the front of your chest. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

Triceps Stretch

Bend your right arm behind your neck, so that your right elbow points to the ceiling. Grasp your right elbow with your left hand and pull it gently to the left, until you feel a stretching sensation at the back of your upper right arm. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds, then switch arms and repeat.

Lower Back Stretch

Lie on your back with both legs extended straight out. Bend your right knee and clasp it with both hands, then slowly pull the knee toward your chest as far is it will comfortably go. Breathe in deeply then exhale, relaxing and pulling the knee closer as you breathe out. Repeat this breathing action several times as you hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Then switch legs and repeat.

"Mad Cat" Stretch

Position yourself comfortably on your hands and knees, with your back horizontal and your eyes looking forward. Exhale slowly and contract your stomach muscles while allowing your head to hang down, so that your back curves upward like a dome. Hold for several seconds, then return to starting position, inhaling as you do. Repeat five to 10 times.

Back Extension Exercise

Lie on your stomach and stretch your head upward with your arms extended in front of you, forearms flat against the floor (your elbows should be directly under your shoulders). Leaning comfortably on your forearms, hold this stretch for two to five minutes. (Concentrate on relaxing and breathing deeply.)


http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WS ... dmtContent

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Stretching it to the limit - stretching exercises increase flexibility of joints

Harvard Health Letter, July, 1996 by Leah R. Garnett

To many people, staying fit means pounding the pavement, sweating on a stationary bike, or pumping iron on resistance machines. While a combination of these can strengthen the heart, muscles, and bones, it will not necessarily enhance flexibility--a critical and often neglected component of fitness.

Most people associate flexibility with how close they can come to touching their toes. But, in fact, the term refers to the range of motion of a joint--the amount of movement it has--which is determined by the elasticity of surrounding muscles, ligaments, and other structures.

People are most supple as young children. After adolescence, however, flexibility levels off and starts to decline with age. The range of motion in the hips and ankles, for example, may decrease as people grow older, causing them to take shorter strides or have difficulty climbing stairs. Not only does this mean it's harder to get around, but the chances of tripping and falling are greater.

"Flexibility training is probably the most ignored part of fitness, but it's also one of the most important," said researcher Daniel Rooks, instructor in medicine at Harvard's Division on Aging and an exercise physiologist at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. "In general, the greater the range of motion in your joints, the more comfortably you'll perform everyday activities." The one surefire way to maintain flexibility at any age is to make stretching exercises a regular part of life. Even people, with arthritis can do them. However, it's important to check with a physician if pain occurs.

Shattering myths

A common misconception is that stretching is a good warm-up to exercise. In fact, stretching, cold muscles increases the risk of injuring them. Warm-ups should either include low-level aerobic activity such as light calisthenics, jogging in place, or brisk walking. Another approach is to mimic movements that will be used in a sport, such as swinging a tennis racket before playing.

For people involved in regular aerobic exercise, the best time to stretch is after working out and cooling down with a lower level of activity. This is when tissue temperatures are highest and the risk of injury lowest.

Another widely held myth is that building muscles and flexibility are mutually exclusive. Coaches and athletes in particular have long thought that people who train hard become less supple as they gain strength. The fact is, many people who concentrate on building muscle simply neglect to stretch after exercise, said Michael J. Alter, a former gymnastics coach and author of the Science of flexibility.

There is even some evidence that weight training may help increase flexibility. In a 1990 study on the effects of strength training in nursing-home residents, Tufts University researchers found that flexibility increased with strength, possibly because participants were taught routines that put their joints through a full range of motion.

However, many people who do resistance work--either with hand weights or on machines--do not gain flexibility because they do the movements incorrectly, said Dr. Rooks. For example, the proper way to do a bicep curl is to bring the elbow from a straightened position to a fully bent one and touch or nearly touch the shoulder with the hand, and then slowly straighten the elbow again--this is a full range of motion. Many people can't complete this movement because they're trying to lift too heavy a weight.

Broad agreement

Although common sense suggests that supple, well-stretched muscles are less prone to injury, this very difficult to prove in scientific studies. "When you look at preventing injury, you're trying to measure something that didn't happen," said Dr. Rooks.

Despite the lack of evidence, most experts believe that shorter, less flexible muscle and connective tissue restricts joint mobility and boosts the likelihood of injury. For example, if a man slips on a patch of ice and falls toward a split position, how flexible he is will determine whether, or how much, he will tear his inner thigh muscle.

Decreased range of motion can also interfere with conducting everyday activities. For instance, some people notice that it's harder than it used to be to rummage through the top shelf of a closet. "They just don't do it very often. When you stop performing a motion that requires flexibility, you lose the ability," said Dr. Rooks. People who pay others to do their housecleaning, painting, and gardening may notice that the hired help are more nimble than they are.

How it's done

Flexibility exercises should target all muscles of the major joints: shoulder, hips, knees, and ankles. (See illustrations for sample exercises.) Always stretch to the point where resistance is felt, but not pain. The goal should be to hold a position for 20 to 60 seconds: it takes at least 20 seconds for the nerves to stop sending signals that muscles should contract, which they do at first to protect against overstretching.
Make sure to move slowly; don't twist, turn, or bounce while in a stretch.

And keep in mind that not every posture is for everyone. Pain is a signal to stop.

Experts say that stretching should be done at least three times a week. Beginners should start with stretches lasting 5-10 seconds with short rests in between. Build up gradually to ones that last for at least 20 seconds. Inhale at the beginning, and simultaneously stretch and relax the muscle during the exhale. Once a position can be held for 20 seconds to a minute or two, it's not necessary to repeat it: one long stretch is more effective than several shorter ones.

Time to relax

One of the great benefits of stretching is that it can help reduce stress. "From a purely physiological perspective, relaxation is the cessation of muscular tension," said Alter. "Tension wastes energy; a contracting muscle requires more exertion than a relaxed one." Everyday experience has shown that a relaxed muscle is less susceptible to fatigue and aches and pain.

More than any other exercise, stretching has traditionally been seen as a way to unify one's mind, body, and spirit. For thousands of years, it's been an integral part of many Near and Far Eastern traditions; the most common of these is yoga. Asanas (yoga postures), when done with controlled breathing and concentration, are supposed to bring one to a higher, meditative state. Even people who do not practice yoga often find that stretching with proper breathing is both calming and invigorating, said Alter.

And if that's not enough of a sales pitch, Dr. Rooks points out that, unlike many things, stretching is something people can do for themselves that requires no money, no car, no equipment--and they can get started today.

Calf and Achilles Tendon

* Hold onto a surface for balance. With right heel firmly on floor, step forward with left leg.
* Keeping back straight, slowly bend left knee until a stretch is felt in the calf of the straingtened right leg.
* Repeat on opposite side.

Qudriceps

* Place one hand on surface for balance. Slightly bend the supporting leg and keep the back straight.
* Bend the other knee, raise the foot, and grasp it with the same-side hand. Gently pull the knee toward the buttocks until a stretch is felt in the front of the thigh.
* Repeat on opposite side. People with knee problems should use caution or skip this stretch.

Hamstrings

* Sit upright on the floor. Bend right knee, place the sole of the foot on the inner left thigh, and extend the left leg.
* Keeping your back straight, incline toward the extended thigh until stretch is felt in the back of the left leg.
* Repeat on the opposite side.

Shoulders

* Stand upright facing straight ahead. Gently place both hands behind head with elbows to the sides.
* Slowly move elbows back until stretch is felt in the shoulders.
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