Monday, December 5, 2011

Did Charles Dickens stretch his hamstrings? Do you?

Yesterday, my husband and I were at The Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan where I learned that Charles Dickens wasn't only a wonderful writer, he was a great walker. Quoting from letters that he wrote, that were on display at The Morgan, he claimed he took "daily constitutionals", and the commentary stated that he walked 20-30 miles each day. That's a lot of walking! Did they judge mileage differently back then? If not, he certainly was out for many hours while, I suppose, he created scenes and characters and story-lines for his novels. Walking lets you stretch your mind, if you listen to the sounds of nature rather than your Ipod.

Dickens wrote "My only comfort is in motion... if I couldn't walk fast and far, I should just explode and perish."  Well, I definitely feel better during and after exercise, and my psyche is better for it. Motion keeps my mind and body balanced, whether its a good walk on a beach, in the woods or just around the neighborhood,  or dancing, swimming, a game of tennis, teaching my exercise class - whatever form of motion it is - but I don't think I'd explode, as Dickens says. I am sure, though, I wouldn't feel too great either. I hope motion/exercise is part of your life, too.

I also read that Dickens plunged into icy cold water after a walk, even on cold winter days. Now, I'm not suggesting you do that, but I do suggest you stretch. I wonder if Dickens did. Muscles contract to let you perform the walking motion, so you've got to lengthen them after you finish your constitutional to avoid tight, achy leg muscles that, over time, lead to injuries. Below are suggestions for stretching your calves, hamstrings (back of thigh muscles) and quadriceps (front of thigh muscles) along with the hip flexors, which are so often forgotten and oh! so important.

Above is a hamstring stretch that you can do before you even get in your car to drive home. Notice the extended leg has toes pointing upward. The bent knee should be directly over the ankle - do not let it push out over your toes!! Lower your body weight toward the heel of the bent leg and feel the stretch in the extended leg, up and down the back of your thigh. Keep your chest toward the toes.

The photo above shows me doing a quad stretch along with a stretch for the psoas, also called the hip flexors. You can't see the hip flexors actually getting the stretch, but if you do this correctly, you will feel them lengthen, I assure you. To be safe, hold onto a wall, chair, car, anything. Again, you can do this before you get home. Why not hold onto a tree?  Notice how I have my hand on my foot and am pulling it up toward my buttocks - toward, it doesn't have to touch!  Your knee should point to the floor, as mine does. Hold that position around 10 seconds and then add the hip flexor/psoas stretch by doing a pelvic tilt. You will tuck your buttocks under as if you were tucking your tail between your legs. (I explained pelvic tilt in a previous blog re: neutral spine). You should feel the stretch up and down the front of your thigh all the way up to your hip bone. The curve where your thigh meets your torso should be flattened a little. That's how you'll know you're stretching your hip flexors. They need it! They are very deep muscles that attach to your lower back. When they're tight, so is your back. Be careful. Your knee should be happy, no tension on it at all. If you feel anything in the knee, back off, loosen up.

The above photo is of a calf stretch. Bend your right knee keeping it directly over your toes and stretch out your left leg. You'll feel the stretch up and down the back of your left leg, from the heel to the back of your knee - your calf.  After holding the stretch for atleast 20 seconds switch to the other leg and repeat.

All stretches should be held for atleast 20 seconds and should be done for both legs, even if I didn't specify that.

                                 So, go out, take a walk. Breath! Clear your mind! Stretch! 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for that LInda. I will try to follow your instructions after a game of tennis but sometimes the smell of the awaiting 'cuppa' draws me away from those stretches!