The Fat Girl's Guide to Stretching
Posted by Tee in Health + Beauty,Sports + Recreation
I stretch most mornings to boost energy and stay flexible

As a freshman in high school about, oh...123456...24 years ago, I had an unfortunate stint as a cheerleader. At the time there wasn't much available for girls at my school who wanted to do something athletic, so a friend and I dragged our nerdy, unpopular selves down to try out for varsity cheerleading - and were psyched (and surprised) to make the cut. Once in it just wasn't me, so I left after the first season, but it was worth it for one great takeaway: the value of stretching.

Without it, that mid-air Russian split-gone-wrong in the fall of '86 would have probably done damage to more than just my ego, and I doubt I would still be capable today, at a size 20/22, of contorting myself to show off the feet-behind-the-ears trick.

That frightening and ridiculous visual? You're welcome.

Unfortunately, stretching has a reputation among many non-athletes as the boring thing you do before you run or work out. A prelude to pain and agony. A dull precaution. Useless to anyone who isn't about to voluntarily launch into an intense period of self-afflicted exercise.

Not so. Stretching, if done correctly and regularly, boosts energy, increases flexibility, builds strength and balance, and ignites feelings of wellness and happiness - especially for women who don't otherwise get much if any exercise. In fact! It can get pretty addicting in its ease, convenience and power, and you may soon find that you and stretching are arm-in-arm BFFs.

We asked a few experts to lend their experience and advice on stretching for overweight women, and got a mountain of notes and great answers. We've distilled those into fine points and suggestions you can start using right now.

Craig Galloway, certified personal trainer

Stretching activates the muscle and connective tissues, as well as the lymphatic system in your body that acts as a pump to keep fluids moving. When you stretch, you're waking up parts of your body that may not get woken up otherwise. When you don't, that pump and other parts of your system shut down, trapping fluids and resulting in symptoms like swollen fingers and ankles, and making you stiff and sore after long periods of sitting or lying down.

Stretching is an easy way to help move those fluids along and get your muscles awake and ready to work for you.

Craig's tips:

1. Stand in a doorway with two hands holding on to the door jam and walk your body through the door. That stretch opens your chest right up, and done regularly can improve posture and circulation - which have been shown to affect everything from aging to disease.

2. Plan your stretches until it becomes habit. Set an alarm every hour and a half or so to get up from your desk and do some basic stretching. It doesn't take much to get a big benefit.

3. Remember to keep hydrated; your muscle tissues are more receptive to stretching when hydrated and less likely to pull or be injured. Water is best - stay away from sports drinks, especially if you're trying to lose weight.

Debra Mazda, exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer

For women who aren't used to doing a lot of moving, stretching is a great way to begin elongating those muscles, which tend to shorten up when you're not using them. Muscles get lazy just like we do. Just a little bit of stretching gets blood flowing, and for women used to being sedentary, that can have a big impact. It also helps prevent injury both in becoming more active and in every day life, like when you're reaching up into a cabinet or down to pick something up. Psychologically, it gives you the benefit of knowing you're doing something really good for yourself.

Debra's tips:

1. My favorite stretch is lying in bed each morning, pulling my knees to my chest, and rolling from side to side. It keeps the spine flexible and the blood flowing.

2. Anyone with a heart condition or high blood pressure should never drop their head below their heart. For these women, stretching should be done from a standing position, doing arm circles or stretching their arms up over their heads, or while lying in bed. If you've never done much stretching, I recommend being supervised in the beginning by a trainer. Bouncing while stretching is a big no-no, any stretch should be held for at least 10 seconds. Never stretch hot muscles in a cold room.

3. A stability ball, used properly, is great for overweight women who want to start to stretch and build flexibility, confidence and strength. Just the act of sitting on it, with a straight back and legs wide apart, works your core abdominal muscles because they're keeping you balanced, even if you don't feel it.

Joy Di Palma, exercise physiologist and certified personal trainer

One of the greatest benefits of stretching is that you’re able to increase your range of motion, which means your limbs and joints can move further before an injury occurs. Overweight women [often] lack flexibility and a lack of flexibility is now seen to be a major cause of general health problems and sports injury for overweight women...linked to everything from stress, back pain, and even osteoarthritis.

Joy's tips:

1. Lie down on the floor with your buttocks against a wall and your legs straight up the wall. Slowly flex your toes towards your knees, hold for two seconds and repeat five times. This will loosen up your lower back and stretch your hamstrings and hips giving instant relief for tired backs.

2. Never hold a painful stretch. You should back off just to where it's not painful and hold for the duration of the stretch (a good 15-30 seconds).

3. Bosu balls, used properly, are great tools for reaching a thorough stretch. Foam rollers are also excellent to use to "roll out" your leg muscles, hamstrings and gluts. Use mats to stretch on create a softer surface for the back muscles, to increase comfort and safety.

Gina Ianniello, exercise physiologist

The benefits of overall stretching is that it keeps your joints functioning as they should be.  Chronically tight muscles can lead to limited range of motion around a joint, which can cause pain and injury. Excess weight puts stress on joints and causes muscles to tighten (especially calf and hamstring), so stretching is especially beneficial for women who are overweight.

Gina's tips:

1. For a standing hamstring stretch, stand facing a short bench or chair - place one heel on the bench, toes pointing up.  Keep the leg straight and lean forward at the hips, make sure your back foot is facing forward and your hips are squared, shoulders are pulled back and your back is straight (no hunching or rounding of the back).  You will feel the stretch behind your leg in your hamstring. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat on alternating legs.

2. Stretching straps or ropes can be used for stretches lying on your back on a mat, and can be helpful for women who lack the balance of stretching their hamstrings in a standing position if they find it hard to balance on one foot.  Lie on your back and place the rope/strap around the bottom of your foot. Keeping the other knee bent, hold the strap with your hands and actively assist raising your leg in the air until you feel the stretch behind the leg.

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Do you stretch? if so, what are some of the benefits you've found in stretching? Let us know!