Picture this: You’ve just rolled out of bed after a hard week at the office. You reluctantly change into workout clothes, fill up your water bottle, switch the iPod over to “Eye of the Tiger,” and start to feel the energy pumping. Motivated now, you hop onto the treadmill or bicycle or weight bench and punch through that wall. Only the wall punches back this time—pulling your hamstring or sending pain shooting through your neck. Why? You forgot to stretch.
Flexibility is fundamental to keeping fit, the experts agree. So why does it so often fall through the cracks? True, loose shoulders may not be as gratifying as bulging biceps or a slim waist, but it’s vital to injury prevention and overall health.
“If you have muscles that are tight, it’s going to impact how other muscles work,” says Reiner. “So the muscle action won’t be performed in the right way, and that will lead to injury.” Unfortunately, stretching is often done incorrectly. According to Reiner, dynamic stretches (which are short and include movement but not bouncing) are best done prior to a workout, while static stretches (generally stationary and held longer) should be performed after.
At the Rye YMCA, however, flexibility training starts even before dynamic stretching, with myofascial release and a technique known as foam rolling. Myofascial release is soft-tissue therapy that prepares the muscles for stretching. Foam rolling, a self-myofascial release technique in which athletes roll their muscles over foam cylinders of varying sizes, is what Laura calls “the best first step.” In addition to reducing pain and helping athletes recover from injury, she says, it increases range of motion and circulation. “Whether you’re a triathlete, a health seeker, or just starting to work out again, everyone benefits from this because everyone has something that bothers them—whether they know it or not. It’s like a massage that you can do for yourself.”