As the winter weather rolls in, our bodies respond to the chill by tightening up and seeking warmth. This natural response can take a toll on our muscles and joints, making it essential to prioritize your mobility. From the impact of frigid temps on your muscles to the extra importance of flexibility in the winter, we've got the lowdown on how to keep your body limber and your spirits high during these colder months.
The Cold and Your Body
Your body reacts to cold weather by contracting your muscles in an effort to regulate body temperature and keep you warm. This is great to keep you from freezing on your walk to the train, but even once you warm up the tightness in your muscles can linger. Chronic tight muscles lead to a host of issues and can make you more prone to injury.
If you’ve noticed that your joints feel a little creakier in the winter, you are not alone! Synovial fluid, which keeps your joints lubricated by reducing the friction between your cartilage and bones, can thicken in chilly temperatures. This is another natural bodily response, but one that affects the cushioning of your joints and overall range of motion in the winter months.
Winter in the Windy City clearly demands a little extra TLC for our bodies. To keep your joints and muscles healthy all season long it’s important to make sure you are working them through a healthy range of motion safely, which is where stretching comes in. Read on for the best ways to properly prepare your body in cold weather and some tips for incorporating extra stretching into your winter routine. When done properly, regular mobility training not only fights off stiffness but also improves circulation, flexibility, and your overall health.
Best Practices for Stretching Through the Winter
Before you launch into your stretching routine, show your muscles some love with a warm-up. A quick round of jumping jacks or a brisk indoor walk can get your blood pumping and your body temperature rising. Follow it up with dynamic stretches like leg swings and arm circles to mobilize those joints before diving into deeper static stretches. It is important to avoid doing too much too soon or stretching cold muscles as this can cause more harm than good and lead to injury.
Utilizing Mobility Tools
Mobility tools can also be a great way to warm up your muscles for stretching. Foam rolling, percussive massage tools, and compression therapy can all help increase blood flow to the muscles and get you ready for a deep stretch or a walk in the cold.
Foam rolling is a practice that involves using your own body weight to apply pressure to muscles via a foam roller. This can require a fair amount of strength and mobility, but if you are able to support yourself in a plank position then foam rolling can be a very accessible way to work out those muscle knots and get you ready for your stretch session.
Percussive massage tools like Hypervolt massage guns are a great option if rolling on the floor is not for you. The movement pattern of these tools function somewhat like that of a drill (but feels much nicer!). The rapid tapping motion allows the user to target deeper soft tissues without much effort.
Compression therapy has taken the wellness world by storm. During a session, the user wears an inflatable sleeve around the targeted area which fills with air similar to a blood pressure sleeve. Compression sessions as short as 15 minutes can provide similar benefits to a massage with a specific focus on increasing circulation to the targeted areas.
These three modalities all help to desensitize our nerves, break up muscle tension, and release facia. These practices can also be done post-stretch or workout as a recovery measure to prevent soreness and promote healing.
Stretching for Your Mental Health
The winter blues are no joke, but did you know that stretching can be a mood booster? While stretching can’t make the sun set any later, it can produce endorphins in the body. Those magical mood-lifters can help you combat the winter doldrums and keep you energized until we all thaw out in the springtime!
Our Secret Weapon Against Winter Stiffness: Assisted Stretching
Need some help staying accountable with your mobility goals or just don’t know where to start? Enlist the help of a trained professional to guide you through personalized stretches that target your specific needs. There are different approaches to assisted stretching, but the overall goal is to help you achieve a deeper and more targeted stretch than you can on your own. Whether you're a winter warrior with specific fitness goals or just looking to gain general mobility and make it through the season with fewer aches and pains, assisted stretching provides a tailor-made approach to keep you on track.
If you are interested in trying out assisted stretching this winter, an introductory stretch session at StretchLab West Loop is the perfect place to start! StretchLab is the industry leader in assisted stretching and our West Loop studio provides an open, comfortable, and supportive space for you to set and crush your flexibility goals. Think of our Flexologists (stretch professionals) as personal trainers for your mobility. We build a program based around your specific mobility goals while encouraging consistency and providing accountability. We take the guesswork out of stretching by doing it for you! Your intro session will start with a quick intake and movement assessment to get a baseline for your current level of mobility and to understand your goals, daily activities, and any injuries. We customize your first stretch accordingly and afterward your Flexologist will give you a professional recommendation for an ongoing program so that you can start working toward some serious mobility gains!