I always thought I was pretty good at doing my stretches; I stretch before and after every routine – I stretch my arms, my legs, my quads, my hamstrings – especially my hamstrings, I have a tendency to tight hamstrings.
As a kid I could never sit upright on the floor, my back against a wall, and have my legs fully stretched out in front of me, I always had to have my knees bent. I don’t know how unusual that is, but other kids seemed quite happy sitting like that; that’s just the way it was for me, tight hamstrings.
Only in my thirties did I realise, through going to the gym, that it didn’t have to be that way – I could stretch. I was well into my forties before I discovered yoga, and the amazing (for me) flexibility that came with it.
In my fifties, I’ve come to learn that while I do stretch, I don’t do it nearly enough.
I’ve spent my life stretching for 10 seconds here and there. I’ve recently discovered it should be more like 30 seconds for each stretch.
What’s worse is that I don’t stretch at all before I undertake any work around the house. Why stretch before doing a few squats or sit-ups, but not when you are about to spend six hours laying decking? Why would I warm up before I get into a downward dog, but not when I’m about to carry 14 lengths of 4×3 timber across the garden, or even before mowing the lawn?
And that’s how I pulled my groin. That was two years ago now. Four solid days of bending, stretching, squatting, lifting and sawing, and not a decent warm up or stretch in sight – and two years later I’m still paying the price – but finally, with the help of a physical therapist, I’ve really learned how to stretch.
Exercise sheet 4 shows some favourite stretches I learned recently, aimed at hamstrings, groin and lower back, but you must balance them with at least a quad stretch (Month 5: Stretching and warm-ups) and for good measure, a downward dog. You do need to set aside some proper time to do these stretches, and a mat on the floor is the best place.
After a week or so of doing these stretches, I could feel my muscles loosen, but it felt almost as though, even as I was stretching, my muscles were just tightening straight back up.
I’d wake up in the middle of the night with aching hips and legs, my back was stiff; I was beginning to worry I needed a hip replacement or something. I googled away, as you do. There were lots of pieces about menopause causing joint pain, so that was a possibility, but then I found a few articles about the effects of dehydration. Bingo. The list of symptoms caused by dehydration is incredible. I suddenly realised I was waking up thirsty too.
Operation rehydrate was on…
I cut down on coffee (a known diuretic) from about six, to just two cups a day, added two or three cups of herbal tea, and upped my water intake to at least two litres.
Within just a few days, I started to feel looser. I was sleeping through the night, no waking up in pain. It was like a miracle cure, and all from a few glasses of water.
The more I read about the benefits of water, the more inspired I feel. It seems dehydration can add to stress and lack of sleep, and of course lack of sleep adds to our stress, and guess what, stress stops us from sleeping well. Add waking up with muscle pain and really you are in a downward spiral that no amount of downward dogs are going to help with.
So cut down on that coffee, up the water intake, and throw in a few herbal teas just for fun, than stretch away….
Don’t forget to warm up too, don’t just take my word for it, see the links below for some of my latest inspiration.