Shaped by Fitness

Shaped by Fitness

Theresa RoweBy Theresa Rowe8 Minutes

Excerpt from Shaped by Faith: 10 Secrets to Strengthening Your Body & Soul by Theresa Rowe

Chapter Four

Stretch

Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. (Isaiah 54:2, NIV)

As a child, sitting in the willow tree in my backyard gave me a new perspective of the world. If I followed the reach of its branches out far enough, I could see two streets over, where an ivy vine wrapped itself around my neighbors’ gutter. I would sit there, safe in the arms of that strong tree, and think about the differences in the willow and the vine.

The willow had a thick trunk, ideal for climbing. Whether sunshine or rain, the willow offered a sanctuary from the conditions, all the while soothing my mind with its long flowing branches. The tree reminded me of a wise and gentle grandmother cradling me in her soft limbs. But the vine looked flimsy. She was pretty and green, but I knew that if I tried to climb the vine, I would instantly fall. The vine needed the gutter to wrap itself around, while my tree remained strong year-round. I remember wanting to be like that glorious willow. I wanted to be a comforting yet firm presence, someone whose reach was far, whose perspective was wide, and whose roots were deep.

Sadly, I have often lived more like the ivy vine, all tangled up in myself, stuck in the gutter. I was flimsy and depended on others, such as my father, for my own strength. But surprisingly, what has enabled me to more closely resemble the willow—stretched and not twisted—has been pain. Trials and challenges have caused me to widen my horizons, to learn how strong I am and to have solid roots, like the beautiful tree I admired so much.

When we stretch ourselves emotionally, physically and spiritually, we shake off our stiffness, our distorted selves, and open up to the world and the people around us. Stretching invigorates the body, mind, and soul. And with our limbs fully elongated, we can feel God’s pleasure; we are the beauty of His creation.

Shaped by Fitness

Sometimes when times are hard, it seems that being stretched is more like medieval torture. Emotional stretching can be so painful, especially when it requires sacrifice and redirection. But I believe with all of my heart that when we are stretched beyond what we think we are capable of handling, God makes us stronger than ever before.

The same is true for physical stretching. We bring honor to God when we care for our physical bodies, and stretching—even though it can be hard, sometimes painful—is one of the most powerful tools we can use toward wellness. It increases our energy and overall range of motion, which reduces tension and stress and increases circulation. The more elongated we are, the better our bodies can function.

Flexibility training through dynamic stretching is essential to improving our overall health. Dynamic stretches combine momentum and muscles while increasing body temperature and heart rate and providing higher levels of oxygen to the muscles. Flexibility is required in most sports and aerobic activities such as running, walking, cycling and swimming. We should also stretch before daily activities that require us to use large muscles such as heavy lifting, gardening, golfing, hiking and bowling.

“We bring honor to God when we care for our physical bodies, and the more flexible we are, the better our bodies can function.”

And before a friendly game of basketball, softball, tennis or any sports related activity, we should absolutely stretch. This is especially important for inactive people, who can suffer from extreme muscle soreness or even injury after impromptu activity. Most people who are sedentary do not think about the necessity of warming up the body and stretching before they start participating in higher impact activities.

So what is dynamic stretching? Dynamic stretching means customizing the muscles you stretch based on the activity you plan to do.

Suppose you are going to play a round of golf with a friend. Both of you should think about stretching your specific golfing muscles. If you don’t know what these muscles are, stand in your golfing stance and take a few practice swings. Try feeling what muscles move when you swing, and base your stretches on those sensations. The key golfing muscles you should be noticing involve your abdominals, hamstrings, glutes, shoulders, and upper and lower back. Or suppose you are going on a long walk with a friend. Before you begin, walk a few steps, and, again, pay attention to the muscles that move.

One of the best ways to learn how to sense specific muscle movements is with Pilates. Pilates movements create an acute awareness of each muscle group in your body. Here are a few key Pilates exercises that help you stretch the majority of the muscles involved in activities like golf, walking and gardening. (By the way, did you know that you can burn up to four hundred calories per hour while digging, weeding, trimming shrubs, and mowing the lawn? The sport of gardening is a beautiful alternative to traditional exercise and a terrific way to enjoy the great outdoors.)

Before you get started, a few tips:

  • Never bounce or jerk while stretching, because bouncing can cause injury.
  • All stretches should be smooth and slow, allowing the muscle to extend through a full range of motion.
  • Don’t forget to breathe! Inhale and exhale before, during, and after a stretch. Deep, easy, even breathing is the key to releasing muscle tension and stress. Never hold your breath while you stretch.

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