Inside my recent research on stretching I came accross a very good article explaining some important elements of stretching that I believe will help many of our clients at The Training Floor.
When Should I Stretch?
Immediately prior to your exercise warmup, I suggest you stretch only the tight muscles identified by testing those that lack needed flexibility relative to your chosen activity.
Always test your response to such corrective stretching in a non-competitive environment for best results because stretching tight muscles can change your sense of balance and where your limbs are in space (proprioception). This is not an experience you want to have for the first time just prior to competition.
If you lack normal or optimal flexibility in any muscle group and wish to balance the body for injury prevention and/or pain reduction, I suggest stretching at night as close to bedtime as possible. This is because your body does most of its tissue healing at night and if you lengthen tight muscles before bed, they will heal in a lengthened state, progressively balancing your body.
If you want to stretch to improve energy levels (Chi flow), you can get a favorable response whenever you are tired. I prefer stretching to improve Chi flow the first thing in the morning because it helps me feel better in my body and improves mental clarity.
Regardless of when you stretch, you will find that your results are best if your body is warm. About the temperature that causes a light sweat is just right. Remember that tight muscles are like crying babies. If you stretch too hard, it’s like jostling a crying baby, which makes it cry louder. Yet, if you ease into the stretch, it is like gently rocking the baby and it will relax and let go favorably.
Never rush a stretching session. If you are in a hurry, simply start with the tightest or most problematic muscles and do as many of them as you can very well.
What is the Best Method of Stretching my Muscles?
If you are preparing for an athletic endeavor, I suggest a form of stretching called “contract — relax.” This method requires that you place the muscle to be stretched under tension and then activate it against isometric (immovable) resistance for five seconds followed immediately by five seconds of relaxed lengthening.
You will find that breathing really influences your stretching. A general rule of thumb: Inhale as you activate a muscle and exhale as you relax and stretch it. It is very important that after contracting for five seconds, you immediately move into the stretch position as you relax and exhale.
You have a very narrow time window during which the contraction will relax the muscle, facilitating the stretch. Each muscle you stretch with this method should be exposed to between three and five contract-relax stretch cycles and you may need to do exceptionally tight muscles two to three times through such a cycle.
If your muscles are chronically shortened and you need to improve joint range of motion beyond what can be done with contract-relax stretching, or if you have shortened connective tissues, prolonged static stretching is more effective. Again, these are best done at night, warm with a light sweat, in a steam bath, or even in a hot tub (be careful of the time in the hot tub though).
I recommend holding each stretch for a minute or more. Again, don’t be overzealous with your stretching efforts or your body will react against the stretch to protect you from injury. You can stretch each of the shortened muscles or muscle groups as many as three or more times. When you no longer experience a lengthening effect, you have gained all you will gain in that session and should not force it or you can injure connective tissues.
How Long do I Stick With my Stretches?
As your body begins to balance with corrective stretching, you will eventually find you don’t feel a sense of tightness in the muscle any more. At that point, you should not stretch it any further unless you have a specific flexibility requirement for your chosen activity.
For example, many golfers need to improve their range of motion beyond the point that they naturally reach end range even though their body is balanced. In such a case, corrective stretching methods should be continually applied until your flexibility goals are reached unless that amount of flexibility is beyond your congenital make-up (natural ability).
If your work or sports activities change, so too must your stretching routine if you want the best results. Remembering to adjust your stretching routine to include only those muscles in which you are lacking flexibility. This will keep your body balanced and minimize unnecessary pain in joints and tissues too.
While the topic of stretching can become very complex, particularly in rehabilitative situations, I’m sure that if you apply the tips I’ve shared here and read the suggested resources, you will be rewarded with improved posture and better energy levels. Pain reduction is also likely and chances are good your performance will improve. Stretching can be as uplifting as a cup of coffee or your favorite tea, but with none of the negative side effects.
Let me know what you think?