Stretching Routine Part 1: Dynamic Stretching

One of the major goals of my fitness program is to increase my flexibility. As long as I can remember, I’ve been a very inflexible person. My arms and upper body show a fairly average level of flexibility, but my legs have always been extremely lacking. I’ve always thought that it might have something to do with the fact that I’m so tall; my dad has the same problem, and he’s taller than I am. Until I started a short-lived stretching routine in my late teenage years, I could barely reach below my knees when reaching for my toes with a straight back. Luckily, I at least managed to solve that problem,  and I can now reach to the ground. Still, my hamstrings and calves permit me an extremely limited range of motion, and that’s something I hope to correct!

Enter Stretching Scientifically by Thomas Kurz. It’s a book I’d heard a lot about, so finally I decided to order it a few months ago. I’ve now read through the entire book several times, and I’ve learned more than I ever thought I’d need to know about stretching. If you’re only going to buy one book on flexibility training, this should be it! I’ve learned the importance of having a planned approach to flexibility training. Before, I was haphazardly stretching whenever I had the extra time, and while that did lead to small improvements, it’s nothing compared to what I’ve already seen in my short time since reading Kurz’s book. I now make time to stretch at least twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Flexibility aside, I’ve also noticed a huge positive influence on my mood and energy level for the entire day. Just spending a few moments with myself, emptying my mind and concentrating on the way my body feels, does wonders for my focus for the rest of the day.

So, just what have I been doing? Well, the first part of my daily routine consists of dynamic stretching. Simply put, this is stretching done while your muscles are actively moving. You’ve probably done these kind of stretches before– they are a common warm-up used before playing sports in high school gym class. Arm circles, leg swings, and side bends are all examples of dynamic stretches. The concept behind them is quite simple: passive stretching (i.e. stretching with relaxed muscles over a long duration, as in doing the splits) increases your passive flexibility, but does not necessarily lead to large increases in dynamic flexibility. This is of special interest to athletes (martial artists included!), as increased dynamic flexibility translates as an ability to perform at an increased range of motion while actively engaged in their sport. It makes sense, really.  The best way to increase dynamic flexibility is through dynamic stretching!

I usually start my dynamic stretching routine with some light cardio work to get my blood flowing and my muscles ready. A short brisk walk or march usually does the trick for me. I then jump right in to my stretching. I start with my arms, doing 40 reps of each stretch. I then move to legs, for which I also do 40 reps per leg. Finally, I end off with some trunk stretches. I usually do 60 reps for each of these, as there are more muscles involved and more mass to move, and therefore I usually find it takes me a bit longer to reach my maximum range of motion. Here’s my usual routine in detail:

40 x arm circles

40 x arm crosses

40 x arm swings

40 x front leg raises

40 x side leg raises

40 x rear leg raises

60 x front trunk bends

60 x side trunk bends

60 x back extensions

A note for beginners: when I first started this routine, I sometimes found it hard to finish all my reps, especially with the leg stretches. My range of motion would start to decrease as my muscles became tired. I found a helpful solution was to break the leg stretches up into alternating sets of 10 reps per leg, switching legs between sets. This allowed me to alternately rest each leg, and it was very helpful for me.

I do this routine at least twice a day: once just after I wake up (before breakfast), and another later in the evening, close to bed time. I also use it as a warm-up for any physical activity I do.  I’ll often follow it with some static passive stretching in the morning, and I always do at night. I feel invigorated and ready to face my day when I do these streches in the morning, and I love using them as a warm-up before BJJ, as I definitely notice my performance improves due to increased flexibility. In the evening, stretching is a nice way to wind down the day and get myself ready for sleep.

Speaking of sleep, it’s already getting late! I’d better head to bed right now if I want to stay on top of my sleep schedule! I think I’ll leave this post as-is for now. Tomorrow I’ll be starting full speed on my endurance workouts, so I’ll be sure to post details tomorrow!

Good night, Internet!

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March 20, 2009 at 11:43 pm 2 comments

A long-awaited return!

No, I hadn’t forgotten about my blog. I hope my blog hasn’t forgotten about me!

Well, what can I say? This blog was meant to be a testament to my commitment to a healthier, more active lifestyle. By posting my dietary and exercise information every day, I hoped to stay motivated toward my goal of a total self-overhaul. By and large, I have  so far failed. The beginning was so promising. I was posting every day, and meticulously recording my daily nutritional intake, as well as my physical activity. But, I gradually began to slack off, until soon I wasn’t posting anything at all. I don’t think very many people are reading my blog (yet!), but I”m going to apologize nonetheless. I’m sorry for giving up for the past few months. I’ve let my readers down. Most of all though, I’ve let myself down. I feel guilty and disappointed in myself for falling off the wagon so hard. I’m going to take it as a lesson in the dangers of procrastination and complacency, and do my best to make sure it never happens again.

That’s not to say all has been lost, however. I am still attending Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes, now four or five times a week, and I definitely see and feel an increase in my fitness level because of it. Over the past few weeks, I’ve also begun the first phase of a comprehensive stretching program I’ve developed for myself, with the hope of increasing my extremely poor flexibility. I’ve also designed a brand-new workout regimen, with both endurance and strength components, and I plan to bring it into effect full-force starting next week. And while my dietary habits have probably suffered the most since I stopped recording them and posting them here for the world to see, I’ve still managed to maintain some form of discipline in my eating, though there is still room for a lot of improvement.

So, there we are. Now that I’ve realized that it’s all too easy to convenietly “forget”to stay on top of diet and exercise, I’m hoping I’ll have all the more resolve to stay committed. After all, we all face setbacks in some form or another. It’s just a part of life. All we can do is deal with them as best we can. That’s the part that’s up to us, and that’s how we should judge ourselves. Not by the number of setbacks and challenges we face, but by how we choose to work our way through them, and what we learn from doing so.

Without further ado, it’s my bed time! I’ll be waking up bright and early tomorrow to do a trial day of my endurance workout to see just how hard I should be pushing myself when I start up next week. And, starting tomorrow, I’ll be back to posting all the data for my day-to-day nutrition and physical activity. I’ll also post the workouts and stretching routines I’ve come up with, just to serve as examples for those who are interested.

Good night! See you tomorrow, blogosphere.

March 19, 2009 at 9:46 pm Leave a comment

Back in action!

OK, OK. It’s been just over four months since my last post here. How terrible of me! Never fear though, I haven’t given up on my training or on my fitness program. I’ll have updates up and running again in the near future, so stay tuned for more!

March 6, 2009 at 2:41 am Leave a comment

My first submission!

Yesterday was a day to remember! I’ve been going to Brazilian jiu jitsu class for about three weeks now, and at the end of each training session we usually “shark tank”, or take turns sparring with different partners, trying to use the techniques we’ve been working on. As the new guy in class, I’ve been totally trounced every time. Every time except yesterday, that is!

We had been working on armlocks from the side mount all class, and my partner was one of the few guys who’s actuallyy newer than me. He’s probably at least 20 lbs heavier than me, and maybe 15 years older. By the time the shark tank session came around, I could tell that he was tired, and when we started rolling I noticed that his energy seemed to be falling pretty fast. I managed to stay in side mount despite his best efforts to get me off, and so I started looking for a submission. I slowly started working on his arm; I could tell he knew what I was trying to do, as we had been working on just such a situation all class, but I also knew he was getting tired, so I just kept forcing him to exert himself as much as I could. Finally, he seemed to give up on his arm, and I quickly took advantage. I got him into an Americana arm lock (see image) and held on as I felt him using the last of his energy trying to escape. Like I said, he was much bigger than me, and it was tough to hold on, but I just kept cranking on his arm until he tapped out.

It was a great feeling! I know the guy is newer than me, but it’s the first time that I’ve managed to actually get a submission in a full-on sparring session. The fact that I did better than someone who is basically brand new is a good sign: it means that I’m learning something, and am getting to the point where I’m just a teeny bit better than a total beginner. I got completely destroyed by everyone else that I sparred with, but I still felt great about the one tapout that I managed to get. It’s not much, but it’s a start!

October 23, 2008 at 5:15 pm 2 comments

Fitness journal: 22-10-2008

Well, I’m making slow progress. Today was a little better than yesterday, and much better than the day before that. My eating habits were very good today, but I’m still a little disappointed with my sleeping pattern (I went to bed too late and then slept in too late for the third time in a row today). It’s still messing with my daily meal schedule, though it’s been slightly better every day. Some improvement is better than no improvement at all!

Sleep: 8 hours. Pretty good. It seems so hard to squeeze in that one extra hour for my ideal amount of 9 hours, but I can’t really complain about 8.

Dietary Information: Today’s the first day that I’ve been bang-on my calorie intake goal, and I feel stuffed! It’s been tough for me to meet my goal every day, and I think I’m actually not used to eating as much as I’m supposed to. Whether that is a good thing or not remains to be seen: I’m hoping that by increasing the amount of exercise I do and at the same time eating a little more every day I’ll speed up my metabolism so that I can burn those extra calories I’m not used to eating. In other words, I’m looking to counterbalance my increased caloric intake with an increased level of physical activity. Here’s hoping it all works, and that I don’t end up putting on more fat by doing all this. Oh well, that’s the great thing about keeping track of everything with numbers! If something isn’t going as I want it to, I have lots of hard data I can use to adjust my daily routine. Here’s today’s breakdown:

  • Calories: 2,398
  • Carbohydrates: 387g
  • Fat: 44g
  • Protein: 126%

All in all, I’m fairly happy with the way the numbers look today. I had a 12″ Subway veggie patty sub to start my day (with no mayo, of course). Lunch was some delicious assorted sushi from a place down the street, and for dinner (which was fairly late and closer to a bedtime snack) I had some fat free strawberry yogurt with a banana. So I came up a measly two calories short of my daily goal of 2400-2750 calories, so I’m pleased with that. Not everything was perfect, though. I still ended up eating a few big meals rather than several small ones, which is what I’m trying to avoid. Also, my carb/fat/protein ratio could have been a little better: I could have cut back on carbs a bit and instead added a bit more healthy fats. Overall though, I think I did well today.

Stretching: I have one chapter left to go in Stretching Scientifically, so my self-assigned homework for today is to finish the book and come up with a weekly stretching routine that I can start tomorrow!

Exercise: My jiu jitsu class still makes up 100% of my daily workout, which is something that’ll be changing very soon. I got all the info about when I can use the well-equipped gym/weight area down at the BJJ club, and now that my research into stretching is almost done I’ll be focusing on strength training over the next few days.

October 23, 2008 at 11:25 am 4 comments

Fitness journal: 21-10-2008

Today was moderately successful. The only real complaint that I have is that I stayed up far too late last night, so I slept in until lunchtime again and skipped breakfast. I have to head to bed early tonight because I have school early tomorrow morning, so I don’t have enough time or hunger in my day to make up for the extra meal I lost by sleeping in so late, and so I’m way under my caloric goal for a second day in a row. Just as I thought, it’s going to be really important for me to get a consistent schedule together for my sleeping and eating patterns. Anyway, on to the good stuff:

Sleep: 8 solid hours. Still less than my ideal nine hours, but it’ll do. I just regret sleeping in so late. That’s really something I need to work on, as it’s quickly becoming the biggest roadblock for my diet and exercise program.

Dietary Information: Although I skipped a meal, the food I actually did eat was quite good: a whole wheat bagel with light cream cheese, tomato, onion, and a few slices of ham and a side of 1% cottage cheese for some extra protein was my lunch, and dinner was whole wheat pasta with homemade tomato sauce. I again used the nutrition calculator over at SparkPeople to calculate the nutrition info of the pasta sauce I made, and found it to be quite healthy. I threw in some Yves Veggie Ground Round vegetarian ground beef, which tastes a lot better than it sounds. I don’t particularly like ground meats, and the Yves stuff has no fat in it whatsoever. For a snack just before bed I just finished eating some fat free strawberry yogurt with a chopped up banana. It’s quickly becoming my favourite snack! Anyway, here’s what the breakdown for today looks like:

  • Calories: 1,212
  • Carbohydrates: 196g
  • Fat: 14g
  • Protein: 80g

For a second day I’ve come up short on my recommended daily intake of 2400-2700 calories. I feel quite full at the moment, and if I weren’t keeping track I would have probably thought that I’d eaten enough today. It’s all because I slept through breakfast, and that kind of thing is very typical for me. I have nothing that even remotely resembles a consistent schedule, and it’s really bad for my metabolism. I’m starting to realize that it’s the main reason I’ve gotten into such bad shape over the last few years. I need to be more organized.

Stretching: Still nothing in this regard. I’ve read through the first few chapters of Stretching Scientifically now though, and I’m learning a ton about proper stretching. I should be done in the next couple days, and then I’ll be ready to draw up a full plan.

Exercise: All I did today was my one hour jiu jitsu class. It’s a decent enough workout, but I still plan on supplementing it with some resistance training. I should probably add some more cardio at some point as well. My martial arts are going to remain the prime reason behind all of the changes I’m making in my life, so I’m looking for exercises that will have a positive effect on my training. I think the two new books I’ve got are a great start, and I’m only a few days away from having a master fitness plan to follow.

October 21, 2008 at 11:09 pm Leave a comment

Fitness journal: 20-10-2008

Well, here I am posting my very first entry in the “fitness journal” section here on my blog. This is going to be where I keep track of everything I eat, how much I sleep, and how much exercise I do. I’m not sure how interesting it will be to read, but it sure will keep me motivated. Maybe it will get you motivated too!

Sleep: 7.5 hours. I was actually planning to get more than this, but some guys showed up knocking at our apartment door. Apparently the vents needed to be cleaned with some very loud machinery quite early in the morning. That was nice. Oh well…from what I’ve read, 7.5 hours is the minimum amount of sleep you should get every night, so at least I’m not below that.

Dietary Information: Uh-oh. This is not a good way to be starting off my journal. Well, my girlfriend and I went out for a nice dinner with my sister last night, and I ate way, way too much. I had a whole three course meal with an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. It was way more than I usually eat, and I was totally stuffed afterward. So much so, in fact, that I wasn’t even hungry when I woke up this morning. As a result, I didn’t actually eat anything until around lunch time, when I had two quick slices of peanut butter and jam toast. Again, not a very good meal. I wasn’t hungry when I ate it though, and I was just forcing it down because I knew I should eat something. I didn’t eat again until I got home from my BJJ class at 7:30 or so, at which point I tried to salvage my diet for the day and made some fairly healthy vegetarian burritos. According to the nutrition information on the foods I ate and SparkPeople’s nutrition calculator, I’m rolling in with the following:

  • Calories: 1,665
  • Carbohydrates: 198g
  • Fat: 68g
  • Protein: 67g

I’m pretty disappointed with those numbers. The carb/fat/protein ratio is pretty good, but 1,665 calories is only 60-69% of my recommended daily intake. Not surprising that I was under, seeing as I wasn’t hungry for half the day because of my giant dinner the night before. That’s precisely the kind of behaviour I said I wanted to avoid though; eating too much on some days and not enough on others. It’s messing with my metabolism and slowing down my body’s ability to process things at a normal and regular rate. This is going to be an ongoing battle for me, I know it. I’m lucky that I’m not addicted to fatty or otherwise unhealthy foods, but I have a sinking suspicion that getting myself on a consistent eating plan is going to be much harder than it would to just eliminate those foods from my diet.

Stretching: Not much to report on this front yet. Since I just got Stretching Scientifically today, I’m in the process of redesigning my stretching routine. According to the introduction of the book, most people don’t see very big gains in their flexibility because they simply don’t stretch properly. Kurz claims that it’s possible to see drastic results in only a few weeks or months, and I’m eager to test the veracity of that claim.

Exercise: Also not a heck of a lot going on here yet either. I went to my BJJ class today, and we did the usual short (but quite intense) warm up. Class is quite rigorous though and I’m always panting and sweating by the end, so at least today wasn’t a total write-off for physical activity. Like with stretching above, I’m in the process of reading through my new book and setting up a routine to put into action in the coming days, so stay tuned for all that info as I figure things out!

October 21, 2008 at 3:22 am 2 comments

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