I wrote a little ditty a bit ago about the connection between heat application to shortened muscles. Recently, I have had a lot of clients ask me about stretching and effective ways of doing such. When I ask them to demonstrate, most of the clients apply the stretch using gravity as a means of resistance. I generally don’t recommend using the body weight and gravity as a form of resistance for two main reasons.
1) Most of the time, in my opinion, body weight supplies too much weight and will do two things.
-One effect is microtearing of the muscle fibers. This occurs on a very small level, but what happens during microtearing of muscle is that the brain is alerted of the microtear, fibrotic tissue is brought to the area, soaks the muscle tissue (at the microtear) in an attempt to stabilize the area while the repair of the microtear occurs. This material is almost like biological glue. Having this occur during a time when you are wanting to stretch a muscle is generally not desired.
-Another effect is that using body weight as resistance can send an incorrect signal to the brain that the joint that the muscle is crossing may be under some overstress. The brain will react by contracting the very muscle that you are trying to stretch.
2)Another effect is that the stretch will not be focused enough and muscles other than the one that you are trying to stetch may become involved. A classic example is during a hamstring stretch during standing and touching your toes. Very often, to reach your toes, it is possible that the lower back will be recruited to help you to reach your toes. You feel the stretch of your hamstrings but at the risk of over-stressing your lower back. The opposite can occur with a stretch of your quadraceps. A person may be in a kneeling position, lean back to acheive a stretch. Often, this will cause over-curvature of your lower back again leading to an unfocused, inefficient stretch.
The stretches that I give for each client is intended to be focused, efficient and intended to have a long term effect. This leads me to my next suggestion.
There are two effects possible during a stretch. It can be an Elastic Effect, which occurs if the stretch is too short, causing the muscle to retract back to it’s original position after the stretch, and there is a plastic effect, which is when the muscle remains at the length of the stretch. What I recommend is that the stretch be at a 70% of a “maximum pull on a muscle” would be. I am a firm believer that less is more when it comes to a stretch. With this stretch, it needs to be held for 1 to 2 minutes. Deep breaths are taken to allow the body to relax, reducing any protective response that can reduce the effectiveness of a stretch.
So, to sum it all up,
-try not to use body weight when stretching, use some other method to allow you a little bit more control of the stretch, like incuding arms/legs as controllers/stabilizers
-stretch at 70% of a maximum stretch and
-hold for at least 1 – 2 minutes for a longer term effect
-application of warm, moist heat to the muscle for 10 minutes before the stretch
Any questions? Email me anytime..