Over the past few weeks I’ve discussed why calorie/activity trackers, foam rollers and resistance tubes are excellent tools for firefighters. Today’s important health tool is a yoga or stretching mat.
Although stretching is imperative for firefighters to avoid chronic pain and potentially injuries, my observation is that many firefighters do not regularly stretch and are therefore fairly inflexible, especially in the hamstrings and shoulders. Ironically, stretching is easier than other parts of a workout, yet even people who put in the time to exercise still skip over it.
Having a yoga or stretching mat nearby, either in the workout room or any area of the house, can remind you to get in your daily stretches.
Although stretching when your muscles are warm is best (either from exercising or being in a warm environment like the shower), I often recommend that people stretch while watching TV since you can do both at the same time! So consider keeping a mat in the TV room at the firehouse or at home.
The most important exercises for firefighters to do involve isolating the shoulders and hamstrings. A “downward dog” stretches both of those at the same time so I highly recommend that one (see the picture below).
Lying on your back and propping one leg at a time on a wall or door frame is an excellent way to stretch your hamstrings without tensing your muscles (which is counterproductive) or overstretching your back (see the picture below).
You can stretch your shoulders in a seated position (with legs crossed) by: a) bringing one arm across the chest and laying your torso on the arm (with the arm resting on the knee/leg); and b) bringing both hands behind you as far as you can (on the floor) and simply relaxing to stretch the front or your shoulders.
You can even buy a mat with a full body stretching program printed on it: Self-Guided Exercise Mat.
Next week I will discuss the fifth important tool in this series: an exercise ball.
Find the complete series here!