Included in this article is a clear explanation of flexibility, the benefits, guidelines for a successful yoga practice (this is an excerpt from my book Yoga for Golfers (McGraw-Hill 2005) as well as a basic, yet somewhat challenging, warm-up routine to get you started. Special Note: Thank you to the staff at Stretchmate for some of the information in this article.
What is Flexibility?
Flexibility exercises should be incorporated into the overall fitness program sufficient to develop and maintain range of motion.
- - American College of Sports Medecine (ACSM)
There are several workable definitions of what flexibility is. The simplest are freedom to move and the capacity of a joint to move fluidly through its full range of motion. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), flexibility is the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allow the full range of motion (ROM) of a joint. Flexibility needs to occur in all three planes of motion. Therefore, for optimal overall movement, muscles must be actively stretched standing up and moving in these planes.
Stretching muscles is recognized as the easiest and safest way to maintain and/or increase flexibility.
Benefits of Stretching:
1. Reduces the risk of injury
2. Reduces muscular tension
3. Maintains the normal functional length of all muscles
4. Eases joint stress
5. Increases joint range of motion
6. Corrects muscle imbalances
7. Improves movement patterns
8. Improves overall functional ability and freedom of movement
9. Enhances posture
10. Develops better body awareness
11. Decreases soreness
12. Promotes circulation
13. Allows you to feel and perform better
14. Helps improve balance and stability
With all the benefits to be gained from stretching, why is it still a major challenge for some of us to begin a stretching program?
Some people perceive flexibility training to be boring and believe that results come at a slow pace. These misconceptions create obstacles that can prevent us from initiating and adhering to a stretching program and may provide us with excuses not to stretch.
Individuals often dont know what muscles to stretch and how to stretch them. The information thats generally available can be overwhelming and therefore stretching may be avoided all together. Unfortunately, there never seems to be an urgency to stretch until one gets hurt. Remember, it is never too late to start stretching.
Getting Started: (Guidelines and strategies for a successful yoga experience)
1. Get written permission from your physician clearing you to participate in this or any other physical fitness programs.
2. Find a quiet place, free from interruptions and loud noises. The space should be warm to insure that muscles remain flexible. If necessary, heat the room before beginning your yoga practice
3. Set goals and be realistic. If you only have fifteen minutes a day to practice dont attempt to complete thirty poses. Adherence to the program is more important than completing as many poses as possible.
4. Vary your yoga practice. For example, on the odd days do poses on pages, even days do the poses on pages Another example is to work varying body parts such as shoulders, low back and core one day, hips wrists and core another day.
5. Yoga is best when practiced on an empty or almost empty stomach. A piece of fruit or glass of juice is acceptable, not a stack of pancakes.
6. You should never experience pain, either in the muscles, joints or nerves. Slight discomfort as the muscle is stretching is acceptable, but pain is not. Be gentle and patient ' Rome wasnt built in a day.
7. Always modify the pose, paying keen attention to the body and its reaction to each pose.
8. Never bounce in the pose. Move into the pose as deeply as possible and hold that position, creating a static position. Bouncing or ballistic stretching can cause injury to the muscle.
9. Remember to flex the opposing muscle. This will create a stretch reflex in the antagonist muscle, sending the message for the muscle to relax. For example, it is necessary to squeeze, flex or engage the quadriceps when attempting to stretch the hamstring.
10. It is always helpful to keep the core slightly engaged. That refers to gently drawing the navel towards the spine at all times. This facilitates support of the lumbar spine. In addition, lifting the rib cage off the waist supports better posture and increases diaphragmatic breathing capacity.
11. Do not overstretch areas that are already flexible. Functional strength in the joint is equally as important as flexibility. One can become hyper-flexible.
12. Make the commitment to become curious about your yoga practice and your golf game. Read and re-read the biomechanical section in my book to learn more about your body
13. Keep a positive attitude and realize the body responds very quickly to your yoga practice. You are never too old to begin yoga.
14. Have fun and enjoy the process!
Here we go! Let's begin by warming up....
Warming up for your yoga practice is as important at warming up for golf. Just as the mind needs time to decompress and become more relaxed and focused the body needs time to create blood flow to the muscles. Practicing the Warm-up sequence allows the body to prepare for the yoga practice or the golf swing. Be moderate in the intensity of the poses. This sequence can be done as pre-yoga or pre-golf preparation, requiring approximately five to ten minutes.
Extended body stretch with knee to chest: Lumbar spine
Stretch the body as long as possible with the arms over head. Flex and point the feet and focus on the stretch in the belly.
On the exhalation bring the left knee to the chest and forehead to the knee. Switch sides and repeat five times.
Spinal rotation: Core, hips and shoulders
During this exercise I want you to focus on the abdominals, specifically the oblique abdominals and on keeping your shoulders connected to the floor.
Inhale as you bring your knees to the right, focus on the left oblique as you bring your knees back. Switch sides are repeat five times in each direction.
Window washers: Hips, gluts and quads
Place your feet wider than your yoga mat. Inhale and allow the legs to fall to the left. Exhale and return to the starting position. Switch sides and repeat five to ten times in each direction.
Cat/cow pose: Erector spinae muscles, gluts and core abdominals
Place the hands under the shoulders, spreading the fingers wide and pressing the entire palm into the floor. Inhale and press your spine towards the floor. Roll the shoulders back and maintain a neutral cervical spine. Exhale, focus on your core and gluts and you press your spine towards the ceiling. Tuck the chin into the chest. Repeat ten times in each direction.
Childs pose to extended side stretch: spine, shoulders and lats
Sit back into a childs pose with the arms extended as wide as your yoga mat. Walk the hands out to the left, grounding down with the right hand. This will intensify the stretch on the right side. Hold for three breaths and switch sides. Repeat three times on each side.
Modified cobra pose: gluts, hamstrings and spine
Bring the legs together, pressing the tops of the feet into the floor and squeeze the gluts. Place the hands slightly below the shoulders. Pull the navel towards the spine, tailbone moves down and the core is engaged. On the exhalation lift the chest off the floor. Relax and repeat five times.
Downward facing dog pose: Everything!!!
Press back directly from the modified cobra to the downward facing dog. Remember in this pose your body should resemble the capital letter A. Focus on pressing the hands forward, as if you are pushing the yoga mat towards the front of the room. Pull the navel towards the spine, spread the fingers wide and draw the shoulders away from the ears. DO NOT scrunch the shoulders. Press the heels towards the floor, but dont worry if your heels do not touch the floor. Relax your head and neck. Hold for five to ten breaths.
Forward fold with elbows clasped: Hamstrings and lumbar spine
From Downward facing dog pose, walk the feet towards the front of your mat and allow your body to completely relax, opposite hands clasping opposite elbows. Hold for five breaths, bend the knees deeply and rollup to standing one vertebrae at a time.
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