When was the last time that you felt so light on your feet and free enough in your body to run up a flight of stairs without hesitation? If it’s been a while and you miss that feeling, then getting in the habit of stretching could be the most powerful step you can take toward getting regaining that type of spontaneity.
From a strength perspective, the body is most efficient when it is in proper postural alignment and has optimal range of motion (ROM), as opposed to when we are out of alignment and/or restricted in movement. Attaining optimal states of both should be your primary objective if you want to reach peak performance and reduce energy waste. Proper posture and optimal ROM automatically makes us stronger; both are part of the essential foundation of injury prevention and longevity.
Fortunately, we can maintain good posture, correct bad posture, and improve ROM by stretching. Stretching is a powerful skill that requires a basic understanding of the body, and our full attention in its practice. In this article you will learn about some effective types of stretching that you can incorporate into your daily routine.
When we don’t take the time to properly stretch out our muscles that are short and tight, they are left in a weakened state. This can result in restricted range of motion and start a domino effect of improper movement strategies, accelerated sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue with aging), compensations, and further debilitating dysfunctions in the body. We are then left feeling inhibited because activities that used to be so easy are now more cumbersome. This may become our initial deterrent from participating in the rigorous physical exercise it takes to maintain or improve our health and fitness.
Limit this type of stretching
Most of us are all too familiar with the traditional static stretching method of holding a position for 30 to 60 seconds. With this method we may experience a good deal of pain or discomfort that can become so intense at times that we need to mentally block it out. Why would you subject yourself to that if you don’t have to?
Stretching is an activity in which we should be fully engaged to become better connected to our body and mind. During stretching you get to focus in on the action of maintaining the specific body alignments and actions to stretch the targeted muscles, which should always be pain-free with the help of maintaining relaxed breathing.
Stretching before activity
In preparing for an activity, the objective of stretching is to ready the body to move as efficiently as possible by stretching our muscles to their optimal functional length for proper postural alignment and symmetry in range of motion.
Start off by focusing on stretching the muscles that have been identified by either you or a certified personal trainer as chronically or acutely short and tight, which are inhibiting other muscles, and misaligning the body’s posture. Based on individual needs, some people may need to stretch more muscles on one side of their body than the other; anterior or posterior and/or right or left. Otherwise you will have diminished strength, power, overall performance, and increased risk for injury.
I recommend using the active isolated stretching method and/or the dynamic stretching method before activity.
Active isolated stretching is when you voluntarily contract one muscle, the agonist, in order to achieve a relaxation and lengthening of its opposite, the antagonist. Through the body’s own innate principle of reciprocal inhibition, this process allows for a progressive, safe increase in flexibility using repetitive isolated movements for a hold count of two seconds. This very brief hold is to prevent the body’s protective defense mechanisms from setting off the alarms that cause our muscle to tense up with resistance, resulting in pain or high discomfort.
This method of stretching is excellent because it allows you to build strength within the newly attained range of motion. This is something that does not occur in the traditional static stretching that is so commonly used. Active Isolated Stretching also will sufficiently warm up the soft tissues in preparation for activity.
Dynamic stretching is fluid in motion, and designed to mimic a subsequent activity, usually an athletic sport, with exaggerated movements that can initially be done slowly for you to notice and work through troubled areas. Then, with gradual gains in ROM, pick up the speed of movement to resemble the neuromuscular demands of an activity for optimal performance.
Stretching after activity
The objective of stretching after an activity is to leave a muscle relaxed at its optimal length to promote balance in the body and to correct postural alignment.
Isometric stretching is an excellent method of producing lasting flexibility because it integrates both the connective tissue, called fascia, and the targeted muscles to alleviate restrictions in movement and associated tension. As referenced in its name, the technique involves an isometric action, which means that you are creating direct tension throughout the body while maintaining specific postures to isolate a particular area of restriction. In a sense, you are creating directional acute tension to alleviate chronic tension.
With isometric stretching you are controlling the tension throughout the duration, which means that your body’s defense alert response time is further delayed, allowing for greater gains in flexibility without the pain. However, there may be some discomfort during this type of stretching, not from alarms of potential ensuing pain, but from the intensity of the high effort involved. These stretches should be held for a minimum of 30 seconds – ideally for a full minute. As you might imagine, it may take a little getting used to applying that level of extended effort, but it is extremely valuable and worthwhile.
If you have a partner or a trainer, you can do assisted stretching using the technique of repeated short contractions against the manual resistance of the stretcher followed by a subsequent relaxation, and then by either a passive or active increase range of motion. This technique is called proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF). It is extremely effective in producing improved range of motion in a shorter period of time.
Getting the most benefit from any stretching requires a higher level of energy output and participation than most people realize. The belief that stretching should be a passive activity is a fallacy.
How and when you stretch are the keys to amazing results. Therefore, choose your stretching methods wisely, and you will notice a big difference in how you feel in your body and perform in life.
To watch video examples of the aforementioned methods of stretching, please visit www.advancedathletics.com/blog.
Adam Friedman, CSCS, CN, CMT is a Kinesiologist, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Certified Nutritionist, and Certified Massage Technician. He is the founder of Advanced Athletics, Inc. located right next door to the world famous Gold’s Gym in Venice, on the corner of Sunset Ave, and Hampton Drive, one block east of Main Street. To schedule a complimentary assessment please call 310.396.2100 or email Adam at [email protected] Otherwise, to learn more, visit www.advancedathletics.com.