I go to the gym and that’s just a part of what I like to do, but stretching? Not really something I ever truly bothered with, if I’m being honest. I hit the gym six days a week and mix up a bit of cardio with weights and resistance training and sure, my muscles ache and get sore but still, I thought stretching was a luxury and not something I really had time to do.
That was soon all about to change. It was only when I‘d whipped out one of the best yoga mats and was attempting to do a forward fold (and failing miserably), that I wondered if there was anything I could do to get one step closer to resembling anything remotely flexible. I’d also found studies that concluded yoga could be just as effective as other forms of exercise when it comes to improving your health.
So, armed with my new drive to give YouTube sensation, Yoga with Adriene a run for her money, I found a gymnastics/ yoga stretching regime that was 40 minutes long and needed completing every day, even on Sundays which are normally my rest days. The aim being that by the end of the 30 days, I’d be able to perfect my forward fold.
For those who aren’t so familiar with a forward fold, it’s a stretch or yoga position where you bend from the hips and are ideally able to wrap your arms around your legs with your nose resting on your knees. I was about a million miles away from that but with my yoga mat in hand and a determination to get started, here’s what really happened in the 30 days.
1. I hurt, a lot
Foolishly, I thought stretching more would be great. Perhaps it would be a lovely way to feel good and make my body feel cared for after a hard session in the gym. I was wrong. Well, for the first week or so at least. What I didn’t anticipate was how painful I’d find some of the stretches and how long 30 seconds (the recommended time duration to hold each stretch) seemed when I was doing it.
Eventually, though, this pain did ease a little and that’s when I was able to push a little harder into each stretch. By week three I noticed I wasn’t suffering from delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) anywhere near as much as I would normally after leg day or a big arm workout session.
It’s an odd one too as I found by week two, I could get into the moves more easily (my arms were steadier, and I didn’t shake as much when holding each pose) but that also spurs you on to push a bit more to perfect the move. At the start of the challenge, I looked absolutely nothing like the challenge images I was trying to mimic, but by week two and three, I was slowly getting somewhere.
2. I became so much more aware of how I sit
This one threw me too. Each stretch I completed as part of the routine, made me so much more aware of every limb in my body and my posture. Pushing yourself into poses and stretches hurts and it makes you really aware of where everything is placed, and what your body is doing. What I found though was that I’d be sitting at my desk or simply eating my dinner and I’d feel the need to roll my shoulders back and correct myself if I was hunching over. And the science backs this up too, as the International Journal of Yoga concludes that yoga creates a “sense of balance and union between the mind and body”.
I also gained a new found respect for my body. While the first couple of weeks didn’t feel like I was making progress (everything was hurting), taking a weekly picture and seeing just that tiny bit more progress was the driving force to keep me going. Admittedly, I wasn’t going to be a professional gymnast any time soon, but I was pushing my body in new ways.
3. It’s really time-consuming
I think it’s definitely worth pointing out that stretching for 40 minutes is quite a big commitment, especially if you’re doing it in addition to your normal fitness routine. For sure, there were days when I really didn’t want to do it, but I found it more manageable to split the 40 minutes into two shorter 20-minute sessions on those days or put on some relaxing music, light some candles, and turn it into an evening wind-down session after a busy day at work.
There was a range of moves to do including:
- Side plank
- Upward facing dog
- Downward facing dog
- Child’s pose
- Bow pose
- Half forward fold
- Camel pose
- Seated forward bend
- One-legged downward dog
- Shoulder stand
- Standing forward fold
Sophie is Editor (Maternity Cover) at Fit&Well and has worked in digital publishing for over five years after previously working in print journalism. Heading up the team at Fit&Well, Sophie has worked across some of Fit&Well's biggest sister sites including TechRadar, Live Science, and Top Ten Reviews where she was a Section Editor. Her previous experience includes reviewing products, feature writing, and creating a magazine for cancer patients to support them through their treatment journeys. Sophie's love of all things fitness began when she was studying for a degree in English Language & Linguistics and she took up running in between lectures, which she found fantastic for stress busting. Since then, Sophie's switched to gym workouts and is trying her hand at yoga (although her Crow pose is still a long way off). Her top fitness tip? Find a form of exercise you enjoy and it won't feel like a chore.
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