Kick off your shoes and just stretch like a cat

Patricia Issitt

Patricia Issitt

First published in Health, Beauty & Wellbeing by

I’ve been enjoying the Commonwealth Games recently, particularly the gymnastics. I love to watch the superb control those athletes have over their bodies.

It’s very apparent that their physical skill is linked to mental focus and also that they have a great range of movement throughout their joints. For us mere mortals, those two attributes are also important in helping us to improve the way we move and exercise.

Our skeleton is a system of bones and joints. Wherever there is a joint there is the possibility of movement. Each joint in our body (360 of them) has a certain ‘‘range of movement’’ (ROM). The ideal is that we are able to keep our range of movement in all our joints.

Maintaining a full ROM in the joints of our body means that all the muscles associated with that joint are having to work cooperatively with each other, each muscle is as important as the other. Muscles always work as partners, one contracts to bend the joint while its opposite partner must lengthen to reach around the bend.

If one of these partners is a bit lazy and doesn’t much fancy contracting, there’s loss of movement. That means the other partner will always have too much to do to try and create the joint movement. It’s going to get tired and achey and maybe even give up altogether.

How do we start to lose our range of movement?

As early as infant school, where children may be required to sit still on chairs for a prolonged period. We sit on our butts and the muscles of our buttocks become lazy.

The muscles at the front of our hip socket become shortened because we spend so long bent into 90 degrees at the hip. As we grow through adolescence those chairs don’t get any bigger. We have to crouch over the desk. We slump in front of a computer screen to do our homework.

As we lose the range of movement in our spine, our shoulders become stiff and shrugged up, our lower backs can become weak and bent over. Sometimes it can be our footwear that starts a chain reaction into the hip socket, for example when us girls wear little flat pumps our toes tend to curl up to keep them on. Try curling up your toes and then walk across the room…can you take a full stride? Thought not!

Our modern lifestyle tends to cramp our movement style. The stoop that can occur as we age is an example of loss of ROM in our spine. The spine is the most important structure in the body, a weak and inflexible spine is going to give up problems in all aspects of our lives.

I’m not suggesting we all start doing backbends and triple flips, in fact some of those movements are quite dangerous for the untrained body. But we do need to stand up, kick off our shoes, stretch and move often throughout the day. Be like a cat!

Patricia Issitt is a movement therapist and Pilates instructor and has worked in fitness and wellbeing since 1980. Patricia opened York Pilates Space, a fully equipped Pilates studio, in the city centre in 2004

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