May Challenge: Stretching Your Limits

What can you accomplish in a month? According to science, that’s all it takes to start forming a new habit, and good habits lead to good results. That’s the goal behind our Monthly Challenge, to help you form the right habits – physically and mentally – to make significant strides toward your best, healthiest self.

Can you touch your toes?

For plenty of people, the answer is a quick, “yes, obviously.” The thing is, it’s not so obvious or even close to being a yes for many. While it seems like such a simple move, it’s actually quite complex, not isolating any one area but multiple. In fact, for many, it’s damn near impossible based on different factors.

We ask you the question above because things like your (in)ability to touch your toes and perform other stretches are powerful indicators of one’s flexibility. And your flexibility (or lack thereof) is a huge aspect of your overall health.

Being flexible means your muscles, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules, and even your skin are free to move as intended, allowing for improved mobility, posture, muscle coordination, and reduced risk of injuries and muscle soreness, according to the Mayo Clinic.

So, if you’ve ever been amazed at how easily children can bend their bodies like clay with almost zero issues, this is why. Their bodies are constantly moving and stretching, even without realizing it, which leads to more flexibility.

As for us adults … not so much. We’ve already covered how we’re more sedentary as a species than at any time before in history. And the lack of motion causes our muscles to tighten and shorten, with often short-term (injury, stiffness) and long-term (physical ailments, poor sleep, reduced blood flow, etc.) consequences.

And just because you have a body that looks good in a mirror doesn’t mean you’re safe from this topic. In fact, you may even be at more risk.

When you exercise, you’re building up your muscle fibers, which can make them tighter and tighter as you increase strength. And as we covered above, tight muscles put you at serious risk for injury. Plus, all our muscle fibers are connected and interwoven together. So just because you worked out your legs doesn’t mean you didn’t also put strain on the back or core muscles. That’s why it’s so important to stretch both before AND after a workout when your muscles are strained and trying to tighten in an effort to heal.

Think of it this way – yes, it’s cool you look like you can bench press a car, but you know what’s not cool? Seeing that same person so stiff, they can barely bend their bodies to open the car door and get in it without it being a strain.

The challenge: Stretch for 20 minutes three days a week

In this busy world, adding another thing to your to-do list, like stretching, may not be easy. You’re already stretched for time … get it … ah, dad jokes …

Seriously, though, something like stretching can often be forgotten on a busy day, or worse, done half-heartedly, which means both wasting time AND the potential for injury.

That’s where carving out just 20 minutes a couple of days a week makes it more manageable, and even just 5 minutes a day of proper stretching can do wonders.

Here are a few tips to help you get started:

  • Always warm up your muscles before stretching, even with a little walking, jumping jacks or free movement, as warmed muscles have more blood flowing in them and are far more flexible.
  • For any stretch, try to hold it for a minimum of 10 seconds, but if you can go a minute or two to allow your body to relax in it, that’s where you’ll get your maximum return.
  • Finally, know your limits and push past them slowly. Stretching is not about instant returns. It’s methodical and takes time. If you rush it, you’re likely to strain whatever muscle you were trying to stretch.