Run, sweat, grunt …
It seems men are often inclined toward active exercise and training to build visible muscles rather than the quieter practice of stretching. If you’re that kind of guy, you may have been nudged at times by a woman in your life who asks you to please remember to do your stretching. While that advice is well-intentioned and certainly not bad for you, it may not be an urgent matter, according to Richard Butler, MS, exercise physiologist at Canyon Ranch in Lenox. He says it depends on personal needs.
“Some people, such as golfers and tennis players, may require a greater range of motion,” Richard says, “and they usually achieve that through their regular sports activities. If they need to increase their range of motion, we can work on that.
“On the other hand, someone who uses a stationary bike or takes power walks doesn’t use that same range of motion and doesn’t need it. The last decade of research shows no sustainable evidence of flexibility preventing injuries.”
Richard points out that most men are congenitally less flexible than women, and it’s important to respect that. If you don’t need it, you can work at it but you don’t have to, he says. “However, stretching can be effective for treating certain conditions.”
If you have arthritis, tennis elbow or other joint-related injuries, physical therapists recommend stretching exercises as one way to optimize the lubricating synovial fluid in the joints. Also, the aging process may decrease your range of motion. Richard says this is associated mainly with life habits. “Stretching alone can help, although I recommend something like swimming. It’s great to get your stretches along with something that gives you a cardio or strength workout.”
In fact, Richard advocates exercises that yield multiple benefits. Yoga, for example, is an excellent way to get the most out of limited exercise time, he says. “It produces heat, strength and increased range of motion.” He doesn’t promote stretching instead of cardio or strength training – which he believes require higher priority – but appreciates the value of stretching in combination with other activities or on its own when time allows.
“Stretching feels good and can be your reward after a workout,” he says. “It can help relieve muscle tension, too.”
Richard also likes stretching for anyone who sits most of the day. When you’re feeling stiff, he suggests these for relief:
Knee hugs: Lying on your back or sitting at your desk, hug each knee for a couple of seconds and repeat a few times. Get up and walk around before you face your desk again.
Torso twists: Lie down with knees up, then drop them to one side and turn your head in the other direction. Do the other side. Enjoy the release.