An Intelligent Approach to Stretching
For many stretching is a rare event, over the years I have been to various group classes in gyms where it was somewhat of an afterthought and a very brief bolt-on. As a keen cyclist and runner, many of my clubmates over the years have paid lip service to it; for others stretching and yoga are a way of life.
Why Should We Stretch? Healthy muscle tissue requires a balance between strength and flexibility which enables locomotion and freedom of movement; too much of either can create problems.
Basic Understanding of Anatomy /Physiology: Repetitive movement and poor posture cause muscle fibres to shorten and tighten. Over time they may become chronically tight, circulation to the area is reduced, pain arises and the health of the tissues decreases. It is logical to see that we would wish to lengthen the muscle and stop these issues!
The Wrong Method: What I often see is an overly forceful approach; overstretching, too short a hold duration to make a difference and holding of the breath! This will cause pain and possibly minor or major tearing of the muscle fibres.
The Right Method: Initial stretches are to be an introduction of a movement to an area. The movement and associated sensation may be unfamiliar or challenging, so acclimatization is the key. On the level of our nervous system which directly relates to the muscles, we want to perceive no threat and encourage ease, so we naturally relax into a position and the stretch. At first, we benefit from repetition, short hold durations and a brief rest in between. When you feel familiar with the movement, the stretch needs to be held for 30 seconds or longer to affect a change and establish a new resting length in the muscle; any less and the stretch reflex or ’rubber band’ recoil will occur.
The Importance of Breathing: In short, we release and relax when we exhale. If we refine, play with and extend the exhalation, we release more deeply which helps us relax on all levels and is pertinent to our muscles lengthening effectively too.
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Go well. Will