Stretching is a key component in most exercise routines, but knowing how and when to stretch can be confusing. Furthermore, taking extra time to stretch after a workout (that probably already seems too long) may not be a favorite among exercisers. I know that I am usually rushed by the time I finish my workout, and stretching sometimes goes by the wayside.
Knowing the importance of stretching, I decided to do some research and learn how to better incorporate it into my exercise routine on a consistent basis. But I especially wanted to learn how to do it right, so I can make the most out of my stretches and my time.
The article 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Stretching by Greg Brooks, offers a lot of useful details about stretching. Each one of the ten things is written in easy to understand terms with helpful tips where appropriate. Stretching is important, but aspects of it aren’t always beneficial, and this article also highlights why stretching is not good for certain muscles and in certain situations.
The last thing you want is to do something counterproductive to your exercise routine, especially when you are working hard to get fit, so this article gives you the tools to make sure you are maximizing the benefits of stretching. I’m not sure the title of the article does it justice, as it provides way more information than just a top ten list.
Here is the article:
1. You’re Not Just Stretching Muscle
Every time you stretch you are not just hitting your muscles but other soft tissue too. Fascia, the connective tissue that surrounds muscles, blood vessels and nerves also gets stretched. Let’s also not forget the tendons that connect your muscles to your bones. So next time you think you are performing a quad stretch realize that so much more is being put under strain and you may not be targeting the muscle as much as you think you are.
2. Everything is Connected
Thomas Myers in his revolutionary book “Anatomy Trains” describes how the body is comprised of connecting pathways of soft tissue. These pathways run through the entire body, some connecting soft tissue from head to toe. With the body interconnected in this way it turns localized stretching into globalized stretching. In other words, by stretching one section of the soft tissue pathway you are influencing other areas throughout that pathway. A simple example is how repeated wearing of high heel shoes shortens the Superficial Back Line (runs from the sole of the foot to the forehead up the back of the body) and can result in back pain and headaches.
3. Stretching De-Activates Muscles
The act of lengthening a muscle reduces the ability for that muscle to contract. This is a very useful theory that can be used to assist and activate other muscles. For example stretching the Hamstrings can assist in the firing of the Glutes if the firing pattern of the hip extensors is off. Stretching a muscle certainly will not render it useless but it will reduce its ability to contract.
4. We Should All Stretch Differently
We are all unique and have different length tensions throughout the body. There is no “One size fits all” stretching program. Just like tuning a musical instrument we must only address the strings that need adjustment. It is important to understand your own body and then make adjustments accordingly.
5. Breathing Influences the Stretch
Deep breathing stimulates the Parasympathetic nervous system and this causes the body to relax. Mediation makes good use of this technique, as does Yoga which is fundamentally about “The Breath”. When the body is relaxed it lets go of muscle tension. When you stretch you can use the breath to increase your stretching range of movement. As you slowly move into the stretch take a deep and long breath out and feel your tension release, do not fight it. As you breathe in come out of the stretch slightly and then return into the stretch as you breathe out again.
6. Stretching Can Be a Waste of Time
Stretching can be a waste of time if your body NEEDS to retain that tension for stabilization reasons. A good example is the hamstrings being used to maintain core stability through pelvic alignment. No matter how many times you stretch the Hamstrings they will continue to “Grip” the pelvis so long as your core stability is weak. The solution is to strengthen the core muscles that maintain pelvic alignment thus enabling the hamstrings to relax. If a muscle simply won’t lengthen then you must look at why it is being held under tension.
7. Stretching Can Cause Injury
Knots, Adhesion’s and Scar Tissue leave our soft tissue weak and vulnerable. Putting poor quality soft tissue under strain through stretching can cause further damage. Think about stretching an elastic band with a knot tied in the center, the knot gets tighter and produces weak breaking points. Spending time addressing your soft tissue through massage and foam rolling will go a long way to improving it quality.
8. Stretching is NOT a Warm Up
Static stretching has it place at the beginning of a workout as part of a corrective exercise program but should not be thought of as a warm up. Mobilizing the joints and dynamically taking the body through the movement patterns used in the forthcoming workout are far better ways to prepare the body for exercise. Stretching should be thought of as corrective and nothing more!
9. Better to Stretch Away From Exercise
Stretching can be done at any time but stretching when the body is relaxed is the most effective time for correcting muscle tissue length. Stretching in the evening is best. If you try and change soft tissue length during your workout time the sympathetic nervous system is often active and the muscles finds it hard to relax. You can however perform maintenance stretching at this time.
10. Stretching is 3 Dimensional
We have over 600 muscles in the body and they all run in different directions. When you stretch you need to consider the angle of the muscles on stretch. For example you have 3 Hamstrings and by just internally or externally rotating the legs you can hit different muscles. If you find one stretch easy then try it from a different angle. Your body will always choose the easiest path so look for the lines with restriction.