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Rachel Grunwell shares tips to improve flexibility and movement

Are tight, sore muscles slowing you down? Rachel Grunwell, runner and qualified yoga teacher shares stretching tips for better flexibility, performance, and range of movement.

Flexibility allows us to do everything from lifting our children to sweeping the floor to running for a bus. It even has an impact on our brain, giving us better focus. But when it comes to losing our flexibility, it’s a bit like dusk — you can’t really watch the day go dark, the darkness just gradually sets in. It’s the same way with flexibility — it’s something that deteriorates with age. Just think about how agile children are when they’re tumbling about on the lawn, compared to adults with aches and pains as they go about their day-to-day business, and you get the idea.

Thankfully there are lots of ways to improve your flexibility so you can go about your day with a better range of motion and with better clarity and focus.

Flexibility as part of your workout

When you’re in the midst of a great workout at the gym, you might be tempted to extend it by skipping on those crucial warming-down stretches. But recovery and relaxation are just as important as pushing yourself through those last reps or the final kilometres of a distance run. And it pays dividends in the long run.


What activities are considered part of recovery?

  • Stretching and flexibility work to ease muscle tension.
  • Breathing and meditation. Better oxygen flow helps you relax and brings focus during your workouts.
  • Massage. You can seek out a pro or use a foam roller at home.
  • Rest. A good night’s sleep works wonders.

If you’re working hard to get to your next fitness goal but skipping over R&R, you’re likely experiencing tight muscles or soreness that lasts for days.

“No matter your workout routine, you need some kind of stretch in your life. A restorative element in your workout returns balance to your body,” says yoga teacher and marathon runner Rachel Grunwell. “Tight muscles don’t perform well, leaving you at greater risk for injury. “


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You mean, touching my toes is the answer to better focus?

While normal is slightly different for everyone, a restricted or painful range of movement is something to be concerned about. If you slow down and take “me time” to stretch after an intense workout, you will gain more flexibility — and more from your training.


For example, a good range of mobility can help runners gain speed and support muscles to move better, which lets you perform at your best for longer. So, whatever your fitness goals, you can make improvements through adding stretching and recovery to your training programme.


There’s also a huge mental component to any sport. Rachel suggests yoga for better focus. If you’re a busy person who tends to burn the candle at both ends, you can also avoid mental burnout by learning techniques to calm your nervous systems through a dash of meditation.

“Runners come to see me for the body work. What they end up loving is the mind work,”

says Rachel. “I teach mindfulness and meditation. And my clients love using these strategies to be still and tap into a calm state.”

The right mindset carries you through, no matter what the day throws at you.


A little goes a long way

Flexibility refers to your natural range of motion — how you bend, twist and flex to perform different activities.

Life is easier when you’re able to move well! The catch: your body doesn’t naturally remain flexible. That’s why sitting cross-legged on the floor as an adult is harder than it used to be.

The good news: You don’t have to spend hours stretching each week to make gains.

So don’t be afraid! If you find you need a little extra motivation to get started with a stretching routine or you’re keen to see how yoga could help you, look for a teacher who offers a style of training and environment that’s right for you.


“Many people tell me: I’m not good at yoga. I’m not flexible,” says Rachel. “You don’t have to be great at yoga the first time you try it. As with everything, skill comes with practice..”

Studies have shown stretching just three to four times per week for only a few minutes can help you improve flexibility. And Rachel shares with us many other benefits.

Other reasons to stretch or try yoga:

  • Better coordination. Proprioception — knowing where your limbs are in space — allows you to complete tasks with less risk slipping over or tripping. Be smooth!
  • Injury prevention. Stretching helps you return balance to the body. You’ve likely heard this one before, so take it to heart! If you wait until you’re injured to stretch, you’re potentially going to spend months in recovery before you can get back to the activities you love.
  • Improved posture. Standing tall makes you look and feel confident, plus you may gain better results from your training as posture affects muscle engagement.
  • Increased breath awareness. When you’re training, you can push harder and last longer with better oxygen intake. Big, deep belly breaths help relieve feelings of stress or anxiety in any situation.
  • Better focus. Clearing your mind through meditation can help you improve your mental focus. When it comes to performance at work or at the gym, you’re going to get better results when your mindset is right.Screen Shot 2017-10-06 at 11.00.12 am

What can you do now to improve your flexibility?

Your aim is to move. Netball, running, circuit training, you name it. When basic movements, such as placing items on the top shelf are difficult or painful, it’s time to pay attention to what your body is saying.

These tips will get you started toward a more relaxed and limber version of you:

  1. Don’t ignore tired and sore muscles. If you’re feeling tight, stretching is a great way to restore balance to your body and ease recovery. Though do be careful if you experience acute pain that lasts more than a few days. Stretching injured muscles will make an underlying problem worse, so seek out a doctor for advice.
  2. Get the support you need. Not sure what to stretch or how? Are certain positions causing pain? Starting a new routine with the help of a qualified yoga teacher or personal trainer will go a long way in building your confidence and perfecting technique. The right teacher will also inspire and motivate you.
  3. Wear clothing that promotes freedom of movement. If your clothing is restricting how you bend or how far you can lean into a stretch, you won’t enjoy the full benefits of stretching. Invest in performance fabrics with more stretch so you can move any way you wish without distraction.
  4. Pre-workout. Dynamic stretches, such as walking lunges, are a gentle way to stretch before a run or any other workout. You’re basically preparing the body for movement.
  5. Post-workout. After exercising, take some time to lengthen your muscles because they get tight during a workout. Even a short amount of time spent stretching makes a difference — it all counts.

“Doing something is always better than nothing,” says Rachel. “So, don’t worry if you’re pressed for time.” Whatever you choose to do, take it slow. Breathe. Feel your movement. You’ll feel better for it and your muscles will soon thank you for increased blood flow, oxygen, and nutrients.

  1. Try yoga before bed for better flexibility and sleep. When you stretch and how    you do it is just as important as making the commitment to put in the work. Static stretching — holding poses for a minimum of 30 seconds — are best for regaining or increasing flexibility. 

Yoga before bed can help you gain the maximum benefits from what you’re doing as your muscles remain relaxed while you’re asleep. Stretching and meditation also let you relax and clear your mind for better quality rest.

  1. Be kind to yourself. Always stretch within the range that’s comfortable for your body so you can make small gains over time. Turning yourself into a human pretzel may do more harm than good if you’re pulling too hard on your muscles.In fact, pushing too hard is counterproductive because it causes your muscles to shorten instead of lengthen, much like a rubber band. Bouncing during any stretch is also not recommended due to the risk of injury.

Remember: take the time to look after yourself

“My goal is to inspire others to try different things to get their body moving because movement helps with your health and happiness. Try yoga or sign up for a run event. Run it or walk it, but get your body moving,” says Rachel. “Challenge yourself; change yourself.”

Remaining flexible supports your training goals and your ability to enjoy life. Set your next personal best at the gym or simply keep up with your kids!

You’ve worked hard to build muscle strength or to get better at your chosen sport, so go the extra mile by stretching for mobility. It only takes a few extra minutes here and there to get better overall benefits.

If you want to learn more about Rachel’s personal journey, check out her wellness blog, she loves sharing inspiration, tips and advice for a more active, healthier, happier lifestyle.

You’re training to better your best. Why not invest in performance clothing that lets you move freely while you reach towards your goals? Get quality, comfort and fit with ASICS women’s sports clothing, great for women’s running and ASICS men’s gym clothes and men’s sports clothing.

“Don’t go out too fast, too soon. It’s all going to unfold if you get too excited,” says Rachel. “Go out easy and run your own race. If you have juice in the tank you can go for it in the final kilometres”.

6th October 2017
A guest post in collaboration with Asics.