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It’s A Stretch But You Can Do It

The importance of stretching and relaxing your muscles before and after exercise cannot be over emphasized.

WARNING: Advice on these pages are taken from my own personal experience and do not constitute professional advice. Everyone’s experience and ability is different. Before starting on any new physical activity it is a good idea to consult a Doctor. It may also be beneficial to work with a Coach or a Guide to develop the necessary skills to support such activity.

On a rainy, late autumn, day last year I plodded slowly up from sea level out of Dunure Harbour towards the village of Fisherton. The climb was about 300ft, relatively steep and I was going to use the lamp posts in Fisherton as markers for my first hill sprint session in 20 years. I felt freedom and exhilaration as I exploded into my first sprint of the session. A sudden sharp pain at the top of my left leg had me pulling up before the end of the third sprint. I was soon limping back to the car with a pulled hamstring. It would literally be months before I would run pain free again.

For any athlete who takes part in any sport, it is vital to work through the ritual of stretches and warm up before any training session or events. For those of us carrying weight it is even more important to work through those routines. For work on your feet such as running or hiking, the more weight you carry, the more strain you put on the framework of bones and muscles supporting you. Muscles need to be kept supple and the blood needs to be easily circulating to carry the necessary oxygen to them to enable you to keep working.

Pulled muscles, weak or grinding knees or lower back pain have all become everyday obstacles for me to have to overcome through years of physical work whilst being overweight. The thing is the onset of such conditions can be delayed or removed altogether and the effects of them reduced by making stretching and warm up/down a routine part of your exercise.

Focussing on stretches, the exercises below are the ones which I tend to do as I find them most achievable and comfortable for me. It’s worth noting however that there are loads of different stretches that can be done for the different muscles in your body. You should explore these widely and find the best exercises for you. To assist I have added lots of links in the exercises mentioned which open up the wide and varied world of stretching and warm up.

Stretch Exercises

Warning: Care must be taken not to overwork or overstretch muscles during these exercises. Move slowly and gently into all positions described never jerk or swing yourself suddenly into a change of position. If you feel pain at any time, stop immediately and seek qualified medical advice before continuing. It is best to work with a qualified Gym or Sports Coach when first doing stretches.

The video below shows a demonstration of the full exercise routine encompassing all stretches described in this post.

All stretches are shown in this video and described below

Lunging Calf Stretch

This exercise stretches the calf muscles. This is the large muscle that runs along the back of your leg from your heel to the back of the knee.

Lunging Calf Stretch
  • Find a wall and place your hands on the wall
  • Extend one leg behind you
  • To achieve the stretch on the calf muscle on the extended leg, place that entire foot on the floor with the toes pointing forward and bend the non extended knee
  • You should feel the area behind your extended leg, between the heel and the knee, tightening
  • Hold for a count of approx 10 sec
  • Switch legs and repeat.

Hamstring And Calf Stretch

Here, we stretch both sets of muscles running up the back of the leg. Calf, as previous exercise and hamstring. Your hamstring runs up the back of your leg from your knee to just below your bottom.

Calf and Hamstring stretch
  • Stand, hands on hips, both legs together, toes facing forward.
  • Place one foot in front of the other to prepare for the stretch
  • Keeping your rear foot flat on the ground, raise the toe of your front foot off the ground
  • The stretch is achieved by raising your front foot off the ground and then slowly pushing your bottom back
  • You should feel a general tightness along the back of your extended leg and may be particularly tight behind the knee
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Extend the other foot forward and repeat

Hamstring Stretch

Another stretch for the hamstring. This one is slightly deeper than the previous stretch and focuses on the hamstring. The stretch is developed over 2 parts.

First part of the Hamstring Stretch
  • Stand with your legs shoulder width apart
  • Clasp your hands behind you
  • Slowly lean forward extending your clasped hands above your back
  • You will start to feel the tightness in both hamstrings at the back of your legs above the knee
  • Hold this position for a slow count of five before extending into the second part of the stretch
Second part of the Hamstring Stretch
  • Maintaining the forward leaning posture unclasp your hands and stretch your arms down towards the ground
  • Keeping your knees straight, gently push down towards your toes as far as you can go
  • Do not worry if you cannot reach your toes (I can’t) you can still benefit from the stretch by extending as low as you can
  • If you are able to easily reach your toes, you can extend the stretch further by touching the ground out in front of your toes
  • Hold the lowest point of the stretch for a further count of 5 before slowly returning to a standing position

Quad Stretch

This is the final exercise I do for the legs and it covers the Quads. These are the large muscles at the front of your legs above the knee and they work especially hard supporting your hips and your knees during hill descents.

Quad Stretch
  • Lower yourself onto one knee with one knee on the ground, leg extended behind you and one knee out in front with the knee bent and foot flat on the floor.
  • Hands on hips
  • Gently shift your weight forward onto the leg extended in front of you.
  • You should feel the muscles at the top of the leg in front of you tighten.
  • Hold the stretch for about 10 sec
  • Switch legs and repeat

Lower Back Stretch

This exercise is especially good for opening up the joints at the base of the spine and releasing tension. Hence this exercise can help to relieve lower back pain.

Lower Back Stretch
  • Lie face down on the floor with your hands close to your shoulders, hands flat on the floor
  • Straighten your arms and lift the top half of your body up off the floor whilst leaving your legs flat on the floor
  • Once your arms are straight and your upper body is arched, move fully into the stretch by clenching your buttocks and gently pushing your hips into the floor
  • You should feel the stretch across your lower back
  • Hold for approx 3 sec, lower upper body back down and repeat
  • Repeat for 10 reps

Figure 4 Stretch

The Sacroiliac (SI) Joint is where your hip bones (Ilium) join to the centre of your back below the spine (Sacrum). Inflammation in these joints can cause ongoing and debilitating pain in the lower back which can radiate down through the Sciatic Nerve to the buttocks and the top of your legs. The pain is called Sciatica and you can find out much more about it and the SI Joint here.

This exercise stretches the Piriformis Muscle which, when tight, can aggravate the SI Joint. I was introduced to this stretch when I visited my Physio with Sciatica and I have found it was great for relieving the pain. Note this stretch can also be done sitting.

Figure 4 Stretch (Lying)
  • Lie on your back, hands by your side and legs flat on the floor
  • Lift one foot and bend your knee to place that foot on the top of the opposite knee and relax
  • The weight of your bent knee hanging down should initiate the stretch of the Piriformis Muscle on that side
  • You can deepen the stretch by gently pushing down on the bent knee
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Change over and repeat with the other leg

Bridges

This is more of a very gentle stretching exercise to strengthen your core rather than a stretch.

Bridge
  • Lie on your back, hands by your side with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
  • Gently and slowly raise your bottom off the floor until you have created a straight line from your knees down to your shoulders
  • Relax
  • Repeat for 10 reps

Deltoid Stretch

Deltoids are muscles behind your shoulders which get extensively used during lots of activities. They are extensively used in any swimming stroke, when carrying a pack or using walking poles on a trek and scrambling. Even holding your arms up during a long run requires use of the deltoids. This stretch keeps them supple.

Deltoid Stretch
  • Stand facing front, hands by your sides.
  • Raise one arm and extend it across the front of your body
  • Bring the other arm up to touch the elbow of the extended arm
  • Gently push the elbow of the extending arm in towards your body achieving the stretch
  • You should feel tightness at the back of the shoulder of the extended arm
  • Hold the stretch for approx 10 sec
  • Change arms and repeat the stretch

Hula Hoop

Now we are getting into a little fun and flexibility to finish off. The idea of this and the next exercise is just to loosen off a bit and increase flexibility around the hips. You can use a Hoola Hoop to get the most out of this. I just do the hip movements.

Rotating hips Hoola Hoop style
  • Stand hands on hips.
  • Gently rotate your hips as if you were rotating a Hoola Hoop
  • Do 3 rotations in one direction and then change direction
  • Repeat until you have done five rotations in each direction

Twists

Another exercise to move the hips and shoulders.

Twist Starting Position
  • Stand facing front with your hands flat in front of your chin
Twist extended
  • Extend one arm
  • Keeping your legs facing forward, swivel round on your hips to bring the extended arm behind you
  • Gently increase the stretch to bring the extended arm towards the other side of your body
  • Relax until your extended arm is pointing straight back
  • Repeat the extension for another 2 reps
  • Bring your arm round to the front and repeat by extending the other arm
  • Continue switching arms until you have extended 5 times on each side

Loosening Off and Warming Down

After any exercise session it is always good to just gently relax and shake off all of your muscles. This can be done by gently bouncing on your feet whilst shaking off your arms, rotating your head and anything which instinctively feels like you are relaxing and shaking off your muscles.

If it makes it any easier or fun, just picture yourself as a boxer dancing around the ring ahead of the fight.

Jab n move

Next Post

In as much as stretching is a great routine to prevent pulled muscles or strains in the first place, they are almost an inevitable part of the life of any active person. Unfortunately this is even more true for overweight people. The next post shall look at specific stretches, tools and practices to help your recovery from the inevitable aches and pains of the adventurous and amazing person you are becoming.

Read The Series

This post is part of a series of posts which provides practical hints from my own personal experience to help overweight people get into adventures such as Mountaineering, Distance Running or Open Water Swimming. To read the series from the start click here.

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The Power Of Smile

This is a song I wrote about depression and it goes out to anyone who has suffered or is suffering. The song is especially dedicated to those amazing people of light who are able to reach into the darkness and help. The power that radiates from a smile is truly amazing as are those who smile and can reach you with it. I hope those people in my life know who they are and how blessed I feel to know them.

You always seem to smile when I’m around

You can hear the rest of my music on YouTube here

The songs I have made videos of
My recording studio showing yamaha keyboard and lenovo PC
Click on the image to view my music profile, listen to my playlist or order music for your project

Stream or Buy my Music on all major streaming Platforms including Amazon and Spotify

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How The Tortoise Won ‘That Race’

It’s more about taking part than looking the part.

Capturing the pain of climbing in the Campsie’s, Mar 2014

If I asked you which is faster, a hare or a tortoise, you’d probably laugh and think it was a trick question right? For sure, you’d know the answer. But did you know that, on average, Tortoises outlive hares by a factor of about 20 times the lifespan? Perhaps there’s a lot to be said for taking your time and moving at your own pace.

We all know the story of The Hare And The Tortoise. The slowest of the animals takes on the fastest in a race. As the arrogant hare takes a nap close to the finish line, the lowly tortoise plods past and wins the race.

Slow and steady wins the day. Credit – Bedtime Stories Collection

Very often in my experience the proverbial hare is all you can see or hear from when looking into a mountain climb, a run or a swim. All too often, I feel very like the tortoise. The fact is however, you can be the tortoise and still reach the summit or cross the finish line. All it takes is a sense of adventure and some humility to accept your physical limits and work within them.

Perceived Marathon

“People who were nothing like me doing something which would be impossible to me.”

Lets look at the London Marathon as an example. I was ecstatic when I got the letter last year telling me that I had got through the ballot to run in this year’s London Marathon. I eagerly started watching videos on YouTube to see everybody’s stories of the previous runs. My screen was full of pictures of Athletes and advice on how to run a sub 3 hour marathon. The London Marathon, as depicted in those videos, was for people who were nothing like me doing something which would be impossible to me.

Even searching ‘London Marathon in 7 hours’ you still see nothing but athletes and even a video of someone completing a sub 3 hour marathon. Credit YouTube

Real Marathon

“You could finish that marathon within your own capabilities and with time to spare.”

If you search beyond the videos however, the fact is that those who complete the London Marathon before 7pm on race day qualify for a medal. With a start close to 10am that’s almost 9 hours to complete the course. My training runs often have as much, or more, walking than running in them. Certainly one of the paces I will describe and demonstrate in a future post covers a 7 hour marathon. You may feel like the proverbial tortoise watching the videos online but you could finish that marathon within your own capabilities and with time to spare.

Find Your Own Pace

“Having the humility to accept your physical limits and work within them … can bring you to some of the most amazing moments of your life.”

Walking at the back, Kilimanjaro Sep 2018

It was on the second day of the Kilimanjaro Trek, as we climbed out of the jungle into the long grass towards the Shira Plateau, that I started to fall behind. I knew that a 30 second burst of pace would take me back to the main group. Previous experience of endurance events helped me to stay where I was, walking within myself, at a pace I knew I could manage. Had I pushed to catch the group and struggled to stay with them, my trek would have been over as soon as we reached altitude.

Experiencing the breath-taking views from Stella Point a few days later, on one of the most incredible mornings of my life, cost little more than swallowing a wee bit of pride and finishing 3 to 5 minutes behind the main group each day of the trek.

Having the humility to accept your physical limits and work within them, even if other people seem more physically capable than you, can bring you to some of the most amazing moments of your life. More to the point, high up in the mountains, it can actually save your life.

Slowly, Slowly

“I’ve learnt to say “Slowly, slowly” in Nepali, Swahili and Arabic.”

I’ve learnt to say “Slowly, slowly” in NepaliSwahili and Arabic. These are the languages of the countries in which I have climbed over 4,000m above mean sea level. I’ve seen people race ahead only to be lifted off the mountain hours later or the next morning suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). In the meantime those of us plodding along at the back get to reach our goals.

At altitude, you may have to stop for a rest and a breath after every single step. The longest mile I have ever covered in my life was the mile from the Mera La to High Camp, a climb of 500 vertical meters on the Mera Glacier and it took 5 hours. A general rule of thumb for ascending at high altitude is that it takes around 1 hour to cover 100 vertical meters.

Head Above Water

“I was swimming ‘head up’ breaststroke.”

Open Water Swimathon Course, River Mersey, Liverpool, Sep 2017

Almost immediately after the start of the Open Water Swimathon 2017, I found myself last swimmer by a good distance. By the time I reached the first Safety Boat they were asking if I was ok. Same as I completed the first of three 500m laps of the Open Water Swimming area of the Liverpool Water Sports Centre on the banks of the River Mersey.

The fact was that, where most of the swimmers were cutting slickly through the water swimming front crawl, I was swimming ‘head up’ breaststroke. Some people told me afterwards that the reason there was concern shown for me was that the stroke I was using is generally used when swimmers either tire or get into trouble.

I had decided to swim breaststroke because I knew I could cover a distance with it. My front crawl was clumsy and no way I’d have completed 1,500m with it. In the end up, slow as I was, I finished the course, got my medal and was proud as punch.

Slow And Steady

“We can still venture into the realm of the hare and finish the race.”

Walk every time you have to on a run and you’ll complete a Marathon. Slow down high on a mountain to save vital oxygen and you can reach the summit. Swim whatever stroke you’re comfortable with on an Open Water Swim and you’ll cross the finish. We may move slow and steady like a tortoise but we can still venture into the realm of the hare and finish the race. Whether the hare falls asleep and we win or not doesn’t really matter that much. It’s the taking part, as they say, that counts after all.

Open Water Swimathon Finish, River Mersey, Liverpool, Sep 2017

Next Post

Despite the magic we can achieve regardless of our weight, being overweight comes with it’s own physical challenges. Especially when we take our bodies into an environment or a challenge designed to test stamina and fitness. Starting with Heart Rate, my next few posts will deal with the physical challenges I have experienced in my journey and show some simple exercises to overcome them. It will be fun!

Read The Series

This post is part of a series of posts which provides practical hints from my own personal experience to help overweight people get into adventures such as Mountaineering, Distance Running or Open Water Swimming. To read the series from the start click here.

Like, Share and Subscribe

Please support this page by hitting the Like and re-blogging or sharing through Social Media using the buttons below. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you can also leave a comment and subscribe to the blog to receive automatic updates whenever I post.

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Adventure Beer Life and Wellbeing Mental Health Recovery Running Travel Trekking Weight Loss

Worth Your Weight In Gold

Learning to carry your excess weight can be just as amazing as managing to lose it.

I looked across at the summit of Everest glowing in the newly risen sun and caught my breath. From my vantage point, just over 6,000m above sea level, high on the Mera Glacier, I was seeing the world as only Gods and Elite Mountaineers tend to see it. I am neither God nor Elite Mountaineer. In fact I am quite overweight. But I have long since learnt that the realms of adventure and incredible achievement are there for anyone regardless of your weight. You just have to know how to carry yourself into them.

Everest in the sunrise from the Mera Glacier, Mera Peak, Oct 2017

Body Mass Index (BMI)

My Body Mass Index (BMI) has been in the obese category for the past 20 years. I’ve tried every weigh loss plan on the planet, resolved to change my life every January 1st and obsessed over everything I’ve put in my mouth for years. The only lasting loss seemed to be my happiness.

Click on the image below to learn more about Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of your body weight in relation to your height. The above image is from the NHS Website where you can find out more about BMI

Amazing At Any Weight

I’d often thought about the person I’d become once that excess weight was gone. Confident, sexy, fit, healthy and jogging through life. Yet it seemed like an impossible dream because I kept trying to lose the weight but never managed. Somehow I realized that I can run that Marathon, swim across the sea or climb in the mountains. I don’t have to lose weight to be that person. I’d been that person all along and just didn’t realize it.

The power of that realization was incredible and lead me into adventures and achievements I had never thought possible. I’ve listed some of the high points in that journey below. Everything on that list was achieved whilst my BMI has been between 37 and 40 (Well within the obese range for an adult male).

Click on the links in the list to find out more about the events listed.

  • Summited 54 Munros (Scottish mountains over 3,000ft)
  • Completed 3 trips to the Himalayas reaching Everest Base Camp and a height of 6,140m on Mera Peak
  • Reached Stella Point (5,685m) on Kilimanjaro
Stella Point, Kilimanjaro Sep 2018
  • Reached the highest point in North Africa. Summit of Mt Toubkal (4,167m) in the Atlas Mountains
  • Completed the Trossachs Plod, 31 miles across country in Scotland in 14 hours.
  • Completed the Great Glencoe Challenge (26.2 miles across rough terrain from Glencoe to Fort William in Scotland) twice in under 12 hours (11:22 and 11:52)
Top of the Devil’s Staircase in Glencoe, Great Glencoe Challenge, Jul 2017
  • Completed a cumulative Channel Swim over 12 weeks in a swimming pool three times (max distance swum 1.75 miles in one swim)
  • Swum a mile in the open water in the Mersey in Liverpool, UK
Open Water Swimathon. Mersey, Liverpool UK, Sep 2017
  • Jog Scotland Jog Leader for 2 years, completed the Great Scottish Run Half Marathon twice and the Men’s Health 10k four times.
Great Scottish Run, Glasgow, Sep 2007

You don’t have to put the achievement of your dreams off until the weight comes off. My story is evidence of that and, by telling it over a series of blog posts, I am going to use it as a framework of practical tips to help anyone who wants to follow a similar path.

Breaking Down The Barriers

  • First we’ll discuss humility, knowing your limits and setting achievable goals. There’s no point in watching an 8 stone athlete on Youtube telling you how to run a sub 3:30:00 Marathon. You’re just watching someone you’ll never be telling you how to do something you know is impossible. It’s the guy in the mirror, not the guy on the telly who’s going to do this stuff and I assure you, you can do a Marathon!
  • Next is to look at the physical aspects of carrying your weight. I suffer from High Blood Pressure, have pulled many muscles and often have lower back pain. I’ve taken it all onto the roads, into the water and the mountains. We will look at stretches, warm ups and easy physical steps to deal with these problems. It will be fun!
  • It can be difficult turning up at the start of a run or meeting the team for a trek for the first time when you know you don’t ‘look the part’ and you think everyone is looking at you. This post will talk about finding the magic inside of you and believing in it despite the looks, comments and events going on around you.

Starting Your Adventure

Start of The Great Glencoe Challenge, Glencoe Jul 2016

After reading the preceding articles you may have discovered your inner warrior and have limbered up, stretched off and be rearing to go and do something amazing. This being the case, there are three articles you can choose from to get you started. Read them all, find the one that fires you up the most and let’s go!

  • How to get started towards your first Marathon, Half, 10K or 5K. It’s not so much as going for a run where every walk’s a fail. In the early days it’s about going for a walk where every jog’s a bonus.
  • Getting into the water. Whether completing one of the distances in Swimathon, completing a cumulative Channel Swim over a period of time or heading into the open water, there’s organizations, events and holidays which you can enjoy.
  • The call to the mountains. Many of the mountains in Scotland have terrain or stretches which compares closely to the treks and climbs on some of the highest mountains in the world. Then there’s The Lakes in England, and Snowdonia in Wales. The initial call for me was the call to Everest but there’s many Treks in Nepal, Kilimanjaro and Toubkal in Africa and many more around the world. This post will cover the main practical aspects to get you started. I have also written a series of Mountaineering articles which you can start to follow here.

It’s Still Good To Lose Weight

I will always continue to try and lose weight. Even a 5% loss of bodyweight can have tremendous benefits to health.

Click on the image below to see 15 benefits of losing 5% of your bodyweight.

15 things that losing 5% of your body weight can do for you. Taken from WebMD

The fact remains however that many of the health issues and mental challenges associated with being overweight can be managed or overcome. Click here to read my next post where we’ll start on the journey by looking at knowing your limits and setting realistic goals. I hope you stay with me through this journey.

Great Glencoe Challenge 2017
Guides and Porters (and Will and Clair) dinging the Kilimanjaro Song, Kilimanjaro 2018

If you would like to discuss writing or music for any project or event, please feel free to contact me with the details here.

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The High Mountains

I wrote this poem a while back to capture some of the feelings and the beauty which can be found high in the mountains. Hope you like it.