If you’ve been training with weights for decades and it’s your passion, one of the least interesting things to talk about is stretching. “Wow, I just tripled the hurdler’s stretch!”—Seriously, has anyone ever said that to you? I don’t think so.
Nevertheless, for a balanced overall fitness plan, it’s best to do some type of athletic activity to ensure that your muscles don’t get too tight (shortened) from the slow, confined motion of weight training. If you do nothing but weight training all your life, you may be surprised when you rupture a tendon throwing a football some Sunday afternoon. I’ve seen it happen many times.
To prevent that type of injury, you need an activity that involves the entire body in an athletic way. Sports such as basketball and touch football are good choices. If you’re lucky enough to live near the beach or have space, volleyball is excellent. Racquetball or handball are also good, if you have access to a club. Once a week is all it takes to give your muscles the flexibility and adaptability that weight training cannot.
You should also think about alternating training days with yoga, tai chi or swimming. Try to do one of those activities one to three times in every 10-day fitness cycle. (The other days you either train with weights or rest.)
Yoga puts the body into positions that make for full relaxation and full breathing. I’ve often said that we overpower our autonomic nervous system when lifting heavy weights because we hold our breath for the purposes of pushing heavy weights for high repetitions. Yoga can help balance that. Of course, not everyone can do yoga, so tai chi, a noncombative martial art that mixes beautiful fluid motions with perfect balance and breathing, may be a better choice—or swimming. I prefer swimming.
Why? I think swimming is a good complement to weight training because as you’re in forward motion in the water, you have a tendency to use your back muscles, all of the small ones that are difficult to reach when you train back in the weight room. It also keeps your spine supple, which is very important for those of us who sit in a chair all day. Also, swimming with correct form—turn your head to the right and breathe, take two strokes and turn your head to the left and breathe—not only keeps you breathing at a higher-than-normal rate during aerobic exercise but is also relaxing in that you’re floating and reaching to elongate your muscles. I believe swimming is better than stretching on a mat. I often watch people stretch after a workout, and they’re usually tightening one muscle to loosen another, which negates the effectiveness.
Don’t limit yourself to weights only, or, as you get older, you’ll be less and less flexible. Also, relaxation and breathing modalities are designed to keep your mind, body and spirit as one. Whatever you’re doing in the weight room has to be counterbalanced with one or more of the important stretching, breathing and relaxing fitness activities.
Editor’s note: You can contact Paul Burke via e-mail at [email protected]. Burke has a master’s degree in integrated studies from Cambridge College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He’s been a champion bodybuilder and arm wrestler, and he’s considered the leader in the field of over-40 fitness training. You can purchase his book Burke’s Law—a New Fitness Paradigm for the Mature Male from Home Gym Warehouse. Visit www.Home-Gym.com, or call (800) 447-0008. His “Burke’s Law” training DVD is also now available.