You’ve finished your thru-hike. Congratulations! Now that you’re back home, you should devote some serious time to self-care. You have put enormous physical demands on your body for the last 4 or 5 months. The
Now before we proceed, it is important to clarify that when I say soreness, I’m not talking about an injury. If you suspect that you have an injury, you should consult your physician before starting a stretch routine. In fact, you should consult your physician before beginning any fitness program to find out if it’s right for you.
You may be asking what does she mean by recovery? When I say recovery, I mean taking care of your muscles and connective tissue after exercise. While recovery post-workout includes many factors, such as sleep and nutrition, this article focuses on care of your muscles and connective tissue.
So how will stretching help me recover? Performing a regular static stretch routine may help you reduce stiffness and pain. Moreover, you may experience an enhanced range of motion as a result. In addition, if your return to “real life” has got you feeling stressed, stretching may help you to relax.
When is the best time to stretch? The best time to perform static stretching is when your muscles are warm (ACE, p. 246). Directly after your workout is a great time. I always stretch after a workout. Flexibility training is probably the least prioritized aspect of fitness for most people. Build this time into your workouts. It is important for your wellness.
Let’s say you’re not doing a workout today. Then spend some time warming your body up before doing your stretch routine. This could be anything, such as jump roping, jogging, jumping jacks, and walking up and down the stairs.
Personally, I like to foam roll and stretch before bed. Every night, I dedicate at least 20 minutes to my routine of warming up, foam rolling and then stretching. This is ideal for me because it prepares me for sleep by relaxing my body and mind.
How long should I hold my stretch? The optimal hold time for static stretching is debatable. However, it seems that 15 to 30 seconds (one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc.) is most comfortable for people with muscle tightness and is effective for increasing range of motion. For maximum flexibility training benefit, you could repeat this stretch 3 or 4 times (ACE, p. 246).
Make sure that you are conscientious of your breathing during your stretch routine. Find a rhythm that is comfortable for you. This will ensure efficient delivery of nutrients and oxygen to your muscles and will help to relax you. Breathe deeply to encourage flexibility. Remember never force a yoga pose but go deep enough that you feel a nice stretch without being uncomfortable or causing injury.
Here are a few simple stretches that you can do to help alleviate muscle stiffness post-thru-hike. You may have more stretches in your repertoire to add to these, and that is great.
Triangle (Trikonasana) is a standing pose that provides a good stretch for your hips, hamstrings, adductors (groin muscles), calves, shoulders, chest, and spine.
Pictured below are some examples of Triangle Pose, showing options for various levels of flexibility. You may want to use props with this stretch. I use props all the time. They often allow you to get more from your poses.
Note the position of the feet. Brace your core. Bend from the hip joint, not the waist. If your hamstrings are tight, bent knees are fine. To open your chest and hips more, extend your hips forward and your upper body back. Keep your knees soft (not locked). Look up toward your lifted hand. Draw your shoulders away from your ears and draw your shoulder blades closer together. Don’t forget to do the other side.
Downward Facing Dog
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) is an inversion yoga pose that provides a good stretch for your hamstrings, calves, ankles, and shoulders.
Pictured below are some examples of Downward D
Begin in a tabletop position. Brace your core. Tuck your toes, spread your fingers widely, lift your knees, bringing the sitting bones skyward. Keep the knees soft. It is fine to have bent knees and heels off the floor in this pose. Press the chest toward the toes, keeping your back flat.
Lizard (Utthan Pristasana) is a lunging yoga pose that stretches the hip flexors and hamstrings.
Pictured below are some examples of Lizard, showing options for various levels of flexibility. Once again, props are helpful with this stretch. Place a folded towel or pillow below your knee, if you’re uncomfortable.
Begin in Downward Dog. Step forward into a lunge. Place your ankle directly below your knee and bring your arms to the inside of the bent leg, keeping the wrists in alignment with the shoulders. Rest your back leg’s knee on the floor and untuck the toes. Maintain a long spine and level hips. Don’t forget your other side.
Now that you have finished your thru-hike, indulge in some self-care by adopting a regular stretch routine. Remember to warm up your muscles before stretching. Hold your poses for 15 to 30 seconds and breathe deeply to encourage flexibility and relaxation. I hope these yoga poses will help you to feel less stiff and sore, increasing your range of motion and quality of life.
About the Author
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- ACE’s Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals