When To Stretch

You don’t need to take the time to stretch, what you need is to make the time.

Dog StretchAs a massage therapist, I am always telling my clients that they should stretch more so that when I see them again, their muscles aren’t back to how I found them as soon as I started to work on them.

Many of my clients, as soon as they see me, say to me, all excited: “I’ve been stretching every day!”. But when I start to work on them I realize their muscles are worse than their prior appointment. Worse not in the sense of being tight, but more bulky, with a lot more scar tissue.

They have been doing the exact stretches I suggested them to do… but at the wrong time: in the morning, when they first wake up.

See, when we sleep, our bodies stay in the same position for about 8 hours. Even if you flip in bed all night, you don’t move nearly as much as when you are awake. And when we don’t move much, our muscles cool down causing our muscle fibers to contract – just as if they had a minor temporary muscle atrophy.

So, when you wake up in the morning and decide to stretch, you are stretching out all of those little muscle fibers that are contracted, cooled down, “tangled up in a ball”. And what happens? Many of those muscle fibers tear apart, causing deep scar tissue inside the muscles. That’s what creates those “bulky” feelings that a good massage therapist can feel in the muscles while working, and that is what causes our clients to actually lose range of motion, instead of gaining, by stretching.

The best time to stretch is after you’ve been up, moving around at a consistent pace, for at least 20 minutes. That doesn’t mean sitting at your kitchen table having a cup of coffee, or sitting in your car taking your kids to school.  It means walking without stopping for at least 20 minutes. Or walking uphill for about 10 minutes.  When  you walk for 20 min without stopping (or 10 min uphill) you are engaging all of the muscles in your body and warming them up at the same time.

Think of your muscles like pizza though. When you first start rolling the pizza though, it’s cold and hard. If you roll it out with your rolling pin really fast, because you are hungry and want to make your pizza as quickly as possible, the dough will break (muscle fiber tear).  That’s why we need to first knead the dough, warm it up, and then start stretching it slowly until that 5 inch dough ball can turn into a 20 inch flat pizza dough, without returning to it’s original size.

This is why I recommend people to stretch at night, after they’ve been moving around all day and there is no doubt that their 3 layers of muscles could be cool and contracted.

This tip also goes out to people who like to exercise in the morning. It is very important to stretch before and after any type of exercise. When you stretch before, you need to have your muscles warmed up first. So walk for 20 min (or 10 uphill), and then go about your exercise routine. This way you can get much more out of your workout and are not prone to any type of muscle injuries. (I will eventually write a blog about workout stretches).

Usually people stretch really quickly because they are always in a hurry and need to just get it done and over with. But make that time to stretch… You don’t need to take time, but make time. When you are unwinding from your busy day, while you watch a movie on tv or play with your kids, just lay on the floor and stretch. Stretching on the floor is actually better than standing up (I can also write a blog about this subject too). It could be a fun thing to do with your family by the way, and they will also benefit from it! So include it to your routine! 🙂

I hope that this post was informative and that from now on you can get all of the wonderful benefits of stretching by stretching at the right time!

Much health and gratitude,

Gabriela Brandao.
Gratitude Health Coaching and Massage

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