What does it mean to stretch adequately? And why should I bother?
Stretching is underrated and underdone and people, especially musicans, are paying the price for it. The body was designed to move and it was not meant to hold static positions for long lengths of time, be that sitting in a car, typing, playing an instrument, etc. If one is confined to a rather static position for a long length of time, the body will become stiff and tight in certain areas. If, after that, you try to move suddenly, or for example, spend a long day at work in front of your computer (or several hours in a practice room) and decide then to go lift weights, if you do not stretch and warm up properly, you are literally begging for an injury. You are asking muscles that are tight/weak/stretched to do things that they are not ready nor capable to do.
Let me give you an example. For my bodyweight workout this past week I did not take the time to adequately stretch and warmup before hand and for the last two days, my hips have been paying for it. They have been so incredibly tight that I was almost limping. This led me to stretching ever opportunity I got yesterday, almost to no avail. Today before my workout, I spent the better part of 20 minutes, if not more, stretching and warming up, making sure my body was ready to meet the demands I was about to put on it.
How did I know I was ready? Well, let me tell you. After sitting for a long time, the hip flexors get shortened, the hamstrings and lower back can get stretch and the glutes fall asleep and fail to fire. What is the first thing I did when I got in the gym today? Dynamically and statically stretched my lower body and did plenty of glute activation exercises. It took awhile, but when I finally felt like my glutes were working (there was a burn starting to happen, I could feel them working) and my hips no longer felt like they were going to snap, but instead started to feel loose, and move more freely, I knew I was ready to go.
Let’s apply this to woodwind players and the upper body. What can you do? Make sure you warm up your upper body before you practice, during and after.
Next time you are about to practice, try this little warm up sequence and tell me how it went for you:
- Release Tight Chest Muscles
2. Doorway chest stretch 1 x30 sec. each side
3. Scapular Wall slides 1×10
What is happening? Well, if you play an instrument, more than likely you will have your arms in front of you. These stretches will warm up the chest, upper back and shoulder girdle allowing the muscles to move better and fire more accurately. If you have extra time, (and ideally, an exercise ball) do a couple sets of prone lower trap raises and/or YTLW’s. These will really fire up your lower traps and upper back.
What about if you are going to be sitting?
One thing that you can do is to do the standing warrior lunge stretch. Stand tall. Take a long step forward and descend into a lunge. Stretch your pelvis back, you should feel a deep stretch in your hip on the trailing/semi-straight leg. For added glute activation/hip stretching, squeeze your buttock on the trailing leg, let the arm on the trailing leg side drop towards your leg and raise you opposite arm high until you feel a longer stretch up into your abs on the trailing leg side. Hold this for 30 seconds. repeat on the other side. Do twice on each side.
If you have some time before a rehearsal, you can do some glute bridges, but if you have no where to lie on the floor, an easy way to get your glutes firing (so your hips and quads are doing less work) is to take long strides as you are walking to rehearsal/concert/ the bus/around, etc. and squeeze your butt with each step.
Anything I can do while I’m playing or even walking around?
Yes! If you recall the neutral position you are to take whenever you begin weight training (chest out, back arched, stick your butt out, shoulder blades back and down), you can modify this stance to be useful during the day. Basically, if you will depress and retract your shoulder blades while you are playing/practicing/rehearsing and even just walking around throughout the day, you will accomplish several different things:
- Your chest will open up, stretch out and be less tight.
- You will have taller, easier posture with less effort.
- Your upper back will hurt less, and be less stretched and weak.
- You will automatically have more confidence as when you depress and retract your shoulder blades you have to stick out your chest, which is a subconsciously vulnerable area and to do so signifies confidence, whether real or imagined, eventually it will become real.
Try this for a week and tell me how it worked for you!