Words by Jennifer Smallridge
Most of us know about the importance of strong muscles, but have you ever thought about having long muscles?
Muscles which are shortened through stress, tension or over-exercising can cause pain and discomfort – on the other hand, having extremely long muscles with no strength is not ideal. Let’s take a closer look at getting the balance right.
Each muscle in your body is made of bundles of muscle fibres, and each muscle fibre is made of small proteins which slide along each other as they contract. Over time, these muscles can become tight and short, particularly if you have poor posture or your training program is imbalanced (too few ‘leg days’, anyone?)
Tight muscles can then pull on various joints of the body, causing discomfort, pain and stiffness. The best way to train our muscles is to keep them both long and strong, preventing injury and maximising your range of motion. Here are three easy ways to start including muscle lengthening into your regular routine.
Include eccentric exercises
‘Eccentric’ is the term used for a movement that requires length and strength at the same time. Think about the following examples:
- Slowly lowering from a chin up
- Controlling yourself in the ‘down’ phase of a push-up
- Lowering your body during a tricep dip
It’s no coincidence that these phases also tend to make us shake and fatigue the fastest! Eccentric exercises, when performed correctly, require huge input from the brain to the body, maximising your strength results.
Stretching is an often overlooked but essential part of any effective strengthening routine. There’s no point half stretching either – the first 10 seconds of a stretch allows the fascia (the outermost layer of the muscle) to move, but holding the position for a full 30 seconds enables the stretch to get to the part where it matters most: the muscle fibres.
The good news is that stretching once a day is enough to see benefits in your flexibility, but as with all things, consistency is key. It takes 4-6 weeks to really start to notice a difference.
Equipment such as the a_space Stretch Station makes it easy to tick off many body parts with clear instructions on how best to stretch them – why not add it to the end of your next walk or workout? Use the location map to find your nearest outdoor gym.
Warm-up before you work out
Before trying any of the above, it’s important to ensure that the blood is flowing to the muscles that are about to be worked. The easiest way to do this is with a thorough warm-up – try a quick spin on the Aerobic Cycle or brisk walk, followed by taking each joint through its range of movement.
- Swing your legs forwards and backwards
- Circle your arms forwards and backwards
- Rotate your spine (the a_space Body Twist is great for this!)
- Stand on one leg and circle your ankle clockwise and anticlockwise
You can be as creative as you like with this dynamic style of warm-up, combining many movements at once, and it’s an excellent way to prevent injury.
Remember that if you are new to working out or have a medical condition which could be impacted by exercise, consult with your doctor before commencing any physical activity program.