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lionstalking 448

by Johdi Woodford, Little Bird Pilates

Picture this: it’s the evening on the African savannah, a large herd of antelope are grazing calmly. Nearby, a lioness is lying in wait in the long, yellow grass, alert to every movement, tail flicking intently. A young antelope wanders carelessly away for the rest of the herd, in search of greener pastures, and, like a bullet, the lioness leaps up, sprints the five hundred metres or so that separate her from the young buck. The agile lion springs on his back, sinks her canines deep into his jugular vein, and the rest you know from many a happy moment in front of David Attenbrough’s Wildlife on One, perhaps. You’ve seen it a million times, right? But what you never, never see, is the lioness on the sidelines quickly breaking into a few lunges, squats and quad stretches before she sets off for the kill. And what you most certainly never see is the unsuspecting prey giving it a hasty limbering up in case of a predator’s attack. So, if animals, and high-performing, athletic animals, (we’re not talking about the slow-moving koala, or the giant, three-toed sloth here), don’t stretch before they set off, should we, as another active and supposedly highly intelligent animal put so much stock in stretching?

The short, uncomplicated answer is yes and no.

Here’s another picture, much less exotic, but one many of you will be able to relate to: You’re in your sports kit, already to set off for your run, ride, or swim, for example, and you start your warm up. You squat, lunge, twist your waist, swing your arms, pull your legs etc, etc, and then you start off for your jog, get on your bike, or dive into the water. Once you’re done, if you’re good, probably repeat the same stretches and most likely with greater ease, because now your body’s warm.

So, what’s wrong with this picture?

The answer is nothing at all, it’s just a monumental waste of time! Holding a good, old stretch doesn’t do much apart from put your cold muscles under undue stress, and risk injury. What you’re better off doing is butt kicks, walking with high knees, or moving your hips around like you’re Hula Hooping, for instance. These movements increase your heart rate, raise your body temperature, and increase blood flow. After your run, you may want to stretch any parts of your body that still feel tight, but only if it feels good, or is personally satisfying for you.

Why am I saying this? It’s sacrilege, surely? Well, because most people just want to feel more flexible, supple, mobile – whatever you want to call it. And so they stretch their muscles thinking that this will help them to gain greater range of movement in their joints. But, that’s not what stretching does, that’s what flexibility training does, and the two should not be confused. You see, the vast majority of us want to go about our daily chores without even thinking about how we’re moving our body, and then, if we fancy a quick game of squash on Tuesday evenings from time to time, well, we’d like the old bod to just get with the programme and help us do that too, without pain or injury!

How? Well, like the lioness, who goes from lying, to running, to leaping, to bending, to dragging, to hunching over her dinner in the end, we too, should be looking for ways to move ourselves as much as possible, in as many different ways as possible. It’s called cross-training, you’ve probably heard of it? It’s been around for donkey’s years, and scientists are always recommending we do it. So, if you run, throw in some strength training, or, if you cycle, do some Pilates too, (I would say that, wouldn’t I?) But, we should also aim to cross-train over the course of a day, not just rotate and vary our sports activities over a week. So, you should walk as much as you can, stand on one leg when you’re brushing your teeth, squat against the wall when you’re on a phone call, take the stairs as often as possible, sit on the floor to plan your next meeting, take off your shoes and walk around your garden barefoot when you get home from work, crouch down instead of sitting to go to the loo, from time to time, and no, I’m not joking! In other words, don’t just exercise, move! That way you’ll be putting your body’s joints through many and varied ranges of motion. This in turn, will increase the blood flow, help to keep them working fluidly, and probably, over time, to a greater sensation of mobility and suppleness.

So yes, stretch if it helps you, and if you like it, but otherwise, don’t be so, or too regimented! Just move, as much, as often, and in as many different ways as you can. Just as you are what you eat, you are how your move.

For more information, read Move your DNA by Katy Bowman.

Author's Bio

johdi biophotoJohdi Woodford

Johdi was born in Zimbabwe in 1979 and discovered Pilates in 1999 when a leg injury ended her marathon running career and an osteopath suggested she try Pilates. She began to practice Pilates regularly in every country she lived in and, having arrived in Switzerland in 2004, and having worked in the Marketing & Communication sectors, she decided to make her passion her career and trained to become a Pilates Instructor after the birth of her first child. She has been certified with the Pilates Institute in Geneva and London and teaching since 2010. Her training includes workshops on Pilates for pre and post pregnancy, Pilates for seniors, as well as special sessions led by physiotherapists on the rehabilitation of the back, shoulder and hip girdle.

Johdi opened Little Bird Pilates in 2014 with the aim of sharing her passion for intelligent exercise to a wider audience. Her main aim is to help people, of any age and any sporting background, to find freedom of movement, and gain strength and suppleness without pain and discomfort, which then improves their daily lives. Johdi regularly attends workshops and seminars in order to continue to deepen and broaden her knowledge and technique.