Our past two challenges were all about getting stronger, but this month we're going to do something a little different. We're getting stretchy.
Photo: Mario Antonio Pena Zapatería
A quick test you can do right now: Stand with your legs straight, and hinge over at your hip keeping your back straight too. Can you touch your toes? If not, how far can you reach? (I get about halfway down my shins.) Some of you flexible folks will be able to put your palms on the floor, or wrap your forearms around your calves. Congrats.
Wherever you are, there's probably something you can improve. Perhaps you dream of doing a split, or maybe you can never quite reach that zipper in the back of your dress so you'd love a little more shoulder mobility. Take some time this week to figure out how stretchy you are, and what you'd like to work on.
As you explore, be aware that you can get deeper into a stretch if you work on it for a few minutes or if you warm up your muscles with some other type of exercise. If I walked in to a hot yoga class right now, I would probably be able to touch my toes by the end. But that isn't a permanent change: Later today I'd be back at shin level again. Keep that in mind when measuring your progress.
What to Do
Static stretching and dynamic stretching are both effective at increasing your range of motion over time. Research shows stretching may not actually involve making your muscles longer, but just convincing your brain and nerves to back off of their protective "ow, stop" reaction. If you want to include stretching in your regular workout, dynamic stretches can come any time, but static stretches (where you hold a position for usually 10 to 30 seconds) make your muscles slightly weaker afterwards. Those are best done at the end of a workout so they don't interfere with whatever you do next.
Stretching goes by many names. A yoga or ballet class can provide plenty of opportunities to work on your flexibility, or you can ask your Crossfit coach how to work on your "mobility". If you have favourite stretches, do those; if not, try this video of beginner stretches.
As always, take it easy at first: If you stretch too aggressively you can injure yourself. Gentle stretching does the job just fine, so start there.
Find stretches that you enjoy, and we'll check in with more tips on ways of stretching and things to try. As always, find something you can measure, and document it! Take a measurement or a photo today, and see how far you can go by the end of the month.