In our last article Our Desert Picks: Which Exercises Are The Most Important? we gave you our “top 5 desert island exercises.” These are exercises that get you the best results for your time with no equipment necessary.
But for your desert island life you’ll need more than muscle. You’ll need to remain supple, with a good range of motion and dependable joints. You’re going to need to stretch!
If we had to choose our top 5 stretches to be stranded with, our main concern is that all the major muscle groups are activated. Flexibility isn’t so much about changing the nature of tissue, but of convincing your nervous system that it’s ok to ease up on the brakes and let your muscles and joints have more freedom of movement. A skillful stretch won’t just stretch out a particular muscle, but work with the natural, flowing lines of the entire body. Stretching in this way gets better results faster than narrowing in on one problem muscle.
Before we get to our top 5 stretches, let’s do a brief reminder of how to stretch smarter, not harder.
Your muscles are interspersed with structures called golgi tendons. These fibers measure how stretched out a muscle is, and relay that information to your brain. When you stretch a muscle deeply, these tendons help shoot off a pain response. This is why a stretch “hurts” (but not in the way a real injury hurts). You’ll find that as you relax and sit with the stretch for a few deep breaths, the pain sensation goes away and the muscle stops freaking out. It goes from being rigid with neurological terror to firm but pliable. That’s the point when you can ease into the posture a little more deeply until the stretch sensation rises again.
If you consistently do your stretches, the golgi tendons and nervous system will relearn what your muscles are capable of, and won’t pull the emergency brake so readily. You perceive this as becoming “more flexible,” but your muscle tissue hasn’t got any more stretchy, your nervous system has gotten less panicky.
With that background, here’s the smart, scientific way to do a stretch. You should think of a stretch happening in 3 zones.
In this way, a stretch is anything but a static posture. Stretching is just as involved and active as a muscle-building exercise like a push-up. If you’re going to stretch, pay attention and do it right so that you get the payoff for your time and effort.
Desert Island Stretches
Our five stretches each target different lines of the body. The first is a line that has become the weakest link in our modern lives. This is the rear-line of the body, stretching from the Achilles tendon, up the calves, hamstrings, and back. Too much sitting makes this line short and weak, compromising posture and creating back and hip pain.
There you have it, the 5 stretches we would pack if we were being sent to a desert island. If you’re not sure where to start with your flexibility work, just taking 10 minutes a day to work through these postures will have a surprisingly good effect. Your body wants to be supple and strong, it’s just waiting for you to let it show you what it can do!
Patrick Reynolds // Kenzai Founder