A Trainer Explains Why Stretching Is Important Now More Than Ever
Every hour I get a little buzz on my fitness watch: time to move. Most of the time I take it as a little reminder to take a snack break or begin my daily internal dialogue of "when was the last time you drank water?" But admittedly, there are times when I hit "dismiss" and continue working and staring at my screen.
It wasn't until I started regularly outfitting myself in sweat-ready gear like the UA RUSH™ Seamless Tank ($60) and upping the intensity of my at-home workouts that I felt the impact of skipping regular movements each hour. It started innocently enough: I had an intense workout in the morning and had lots of work to do, so what's the harm if I don't get up and stretch my legs for a few hours and just power through my work? However, when I eventually did get up to move, I found myself so stiff and sore that I could hardly walk. What's more, my workout the next day suffered because I was so uncomfortable.
Turns out my watch isn't just being pesky: it's right. Morgan Rees, an ACE-certified personal trainer who also holds a BS in Kinesiology, explains that when you're in a seated position, your muscles will begin to tighten as a result of restricted movement. For example, when you are sitting in a chair, your hip flexors are held in a shortened position, while the muscles on the opposite side of your hips are held in a lengthened position, she explains.
"Your chest muscles are in a shortened position if you are seated at a desk and using a computer," she says. "Over time, this can influence muscular imbalance. The shortened muscles begin to stay in this tightened position and you may begin to feel more hip and back pain."
So, not only could my discomfort and tightness be a momentary annoyance, but if I go for longer periods of time sitting down on a regular basis, I could develop longer term pain. Rees says stretching throughout the day helps the muscles go through their regular movements of both shortened and lengthened positions, thus reducing those aches and pains.
But beyond stretching, there's a little more you can do to increase your movement, says Rees. "Mobility exercises help with moving your joints through a full-range of motion — whether that be a great range of motion or not," she says. That "motion" doesn't even have to be a workout. It can be as simple as doing exactly what my watch says and standing up and moving.
"If you have a laptop, I highly suggest sitting in many different positions throughout the day," she says. "Sit in a position to stretch your hamstrings and hips." Ultimately, the best thing you can do is to keep movement going throughout the day — even if that means just sitting in various positions. "Stretching can be a focused period of time during your day, but mobility can continue throughout," she adds.
Because I'm working from home and don't have those normal in-office cues like a colleague to remind me to move around, it's especially important now more than ever to give my muscles regular stretching and movement. Not only will it help ease immediate muscle tension, but it could also help keep more serious pain away.
Oh and if you're wondering, I won't be hitting "dismiss" the next time my watch buzzes.