Stretching: It’s Necessary, Not Optional

Are you too cool to stretch? I used to be– or I thought I was. And then I strained a few muscles, had some back issues while surfing, and had sore legs and tight hips from running. Now I can’t seem to stretch enough. Oh, and I am 30. That hurts to type.

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Why Should You Stretch?

Stretching can balance the length and tension of muscles around a joint, decreasing the likelihood of overactive muscles and joint stress. However, it is important to identify the muscles that are actually overactive (no guessing). Once you do that, then you can develop a plan for lengthening them and strengthening their counterparts. Click here to see how to find overactive muscles.

If you do not balance the muscles around your joints, you will develop faulty movement patterns over time. Essentially, you will succumb to the following series of events:

Muscle Imbalances–> Poor Posture–> Improper Movements–> Injury

(Clark, Lucett, McGill, Montel, & Sutton, 2008)

When & How to Stretch

  1. Use a posture assessment to determine which muscles to target
  2. Do SMFR (Self Myofascial Release, AKA Foam Rolling) first!
  3. Corrective, Active, or Functional stretching
    • A trainer is especially beneficial at this stage

You should stretch before and after each work out. However, one caveat is necessary. There is some scientific research suggesting that acute static stretching before a performance can slightly decrease power and/or strength (Clark, Lucett, McGill, Montel, & Sutton, 2008). Conversely, long-term (chronic) stretching has been associated with increased strength and power.

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So start implementing stretching now to increase your long-term power, strength, range of motion and neuromuscular efficiency, and to decrease joint stress.


References

Clark, M. A., Lucett, S. C., McGill, E., Montel, I., & Sutton, B. (2018). NASM essentials of personal fitness training. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

The 30 Second Stretch: Yes, It’s Backed by Science

I’ve heard it all my life. Hold the stretch for about 30 seconds or so, but I never asked why. According to our anatomy and physiology, it matters!

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Mechanoreceptors (Sensory receptors)

What tells us that a muscle is stretching too much or that it needs to stretch more? Our bodies have muscle spindles and golgi tendon organs that provide that particular service.

Muscle spindles are the major sensory organ of a muscle. They are microscopic fibers that run parallel to a muscle fiber. The main function of a muscle spindle is to alert the brain, via the central nervous system, that a muscle is lengthening too far or too fast (Clark, Lucett, McGill, Montel, & Sutton, 2008). When excess lengthening occurs the muscle spindles contract, resulting in micro muscle spasms or a tight feeling.

Golgi tendon organs are located between a muscle and a tendon, also referred to as the musculotendinous junction. Their job is to to relax a muscle when it is placed under excess tension (Clark, Lucett, McGill, Montel, & Sutton, 2008) For example, if you try to lift a weight that is too heavy, then the GTOs will send a message to the muscles involved to stop the action. The relaxation prevents a muscle from tearing.

Hacking the Body With the 30 Second Stretch

You can hack your body’s system by holding a static stretch for a prolonged period of time. Doing so starts a process called autogenic inhibition. In short, autogenic inhibition is an override of the muscle spindles by the golgi tendon organs, allowing the muscles to relax and lengthen (Clark, Lucett, McGill, Montel, & Sutton, 2008). The 30 second rule is based on this process. Generally speaking, most static stretches should be held long enough for the golgi tendon organs to override the muscle spindles– approximately 30 seconds.


References

Clark, M. A., Lucett, S. C., McGill, E., Montel, I., & Sutton, B. (2018). NASM essentials of personal fitness training. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.

My Car was Destroyed, so I Ran

Exercise has always been a mainstay in my life. I became a PE teacher so that I could share my love of exercise with others. Right now I am going through my NASM certification to supplement that teacher pay with more exercise-related work.

Sometimes we forget the value that our hobbies and passions can and do provide us. I was reminded of it this past weekend when I woke up to find my car was missing.

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I am currently living with my girlfriend, and we are in the process of moving to start our new lives in Summerville/Charleston, SC. We live in Charlotte, and street parking is a must in some places. My car was parallel parked right outside of our apartment, but I couldn’t find it…

My first thought was that somebody stole the car. There was glass on the ground and some plastic. Who did this?

As I walked up and down the street looking for my car, checking and rehashing my previous day’s memory of my parking location, a neighbor leaned over her balcony to tell me that my vehicle was involved in an accident. She met me on the road and showed me what happened.

My car is on the top

I was instantly surprised, frustrated, mad, and then entirely annoyed. Why wasn’t I notified? What’s going to happen? I can’t afford this right now… How do I get to work? Was the perpetrator driving a stolen car (the person fled the scene)? Does the car have insurance? F*@%!

The following 24 hours included lots of phone calls, confusion, stress, and more stress. I had to investigate to find out what happened to my car, and I couldn’t get in touch with the officer on duty because he was 3rd shift.

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Eventually all the frustration boiled over and I began to channel my anger in a negative way. The stress was overwhelming, and I had so much energy that I needed to release.

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So I ran… I ran fast and hard. I went to the gym. I worked my butt off and focused my frustration. And the frustration started to ease. The myopic, anger-filled lens I was looking through began to clear.

I did it when my teacher died in middle school– I ran.

I did it when I didn’t believe in myself in college– I ran.

I did it after self-sabotaging behavior– I ran.

I did it when I got my first real job– I ran.

I did it when I didn’t think I could do it– I ran.

I did it through the failures and the successes, the highs and lows, the amazing and dull times– I ran and I will continue to run.

Can you relate?

Your Dynamic Posture is BAD! Your Lifts & Body Are Suffering

Do your knees move in while performing a squat? Your dynamic posture is structurally and functionally compromised if they do, and it might look something like this.

Click HERE to learn more about DYNAMIC POSTURE

Anterior Compensations

If your knees are moving inward or your feet are rotating out while you are squatting, then your muscles are imbalanced in a few areas. An imbalance occurs around a joint, where some muscles are overactive while others are weak.

The Overactive Fix

The Feet

When the feet rotate outwards, then the soleus and lateral gastrocnemius are often overactive– also known as the calf muscle. Another problem could come from a tight hamstring (short head biceps femoris).

Fix those issues with the following stretches and foam rolls.

The Knees Moving Inward

The Adductor Complex makes up the inner thigh. Often it is tight and can pull the knees inward. Fix the problem by foam rolling the muscles to loosen them.

The Biceps Femoris (one of the hamstring muscles) is probably overactive as well. Loosen it by lying on the back and performing a stretch like this:

Strengthen the Weak Muscles

The outward rotation of the feet requires the calves and the hamstrings to be strengthened; furthermore, the gracilis, sartorius, and popliteus need strengthening.

Try the single leg balance reach to strengthen weak areas

The gluteus maximus/ medius (yes, your butt muscles) and vastus medialis oblique need to be strengthened if the knees are moving inward.

Try a tube walk side to side to strengthen your weak glutes and vastus medialis obliques.

  1. Assume an athletic position (slight bend in the knees)
  2. Make sure the tubing or band has some resistance but not too much
  3. Step to the right 10; do the same to the left
  4. Keep feet straight and take small lateral steps

Posture & Health Part 2

Did your static posture check go well? If you don’t know what I am talking about, then go back here to see. Now on to part two of the assessment– the overhead squat.

Dynamic Posture Assessment

Your ability to perform an overhead squat can reveal a lot about your structural and functional strengths/weaknesses. As we talked about before, the focus is on the kinetic chain (feet, knees, hips, shoulders, head).

One imperfection in the chain causes problems elsewhere, which is why it is important to understand and identify the significance of static postural imbalances before moving to the dynamic.

Brain Break


Stand up– now. Stand up, force the arches of your feet into the ground, and then look at your knees. Notice how they move towards each other when the function and structure of the ankle & foot are slightly compromised. Now imagine the amount of extensive wear and tear that is being endured by someone’s body over weeks, months, or years when suffering from that imbalance. What other parts of the kinetic chain are affected?

How to Perform the Overhead Squat Assessment

The purpose of the overhead squat is to assess balance, core strength, neuromuscular control, and dynamic flexibility.

BEGINNING STANCE

  1. Stand with feet shoulder width apart with good static posture– no tilts or leans, just a neutral, relaxed stance.
  2. Extend arms above head, palms facing out, as if you are hanging under a bar. There should be a line from the fingertips to the heels.

MOVEMENT

The squat should be looked at from the side (lateral) and anterior (front).

  1. With arms above head, act as though you are sitting into a chair; you do not need to go farther than that.
  2. Repeat movement with control 5 times. Record the movement or have have friend record it for you.

What to Look for and Record

Anterior (front) View

  1. Do the feet flatten/ sink towards the midline of the body? Do the feet turn out?
  2. Do the knees move inward? There should be a straight line from the ankles through the knees.

Lateral (side) View

  1. When looking at the hips, is there an excessive forward lean? Is there an extensive arch in the lower back? The tibia (shin) and back should be close to parallel if you draw lines through them.
  2. Are the arms falling forward? You should be able to draw a line from the fingers to the bottom.

After reviewing the image above and the information I presented, what am I doing right? What is an area I may need some work on?

Be on the look out for the next post, which will look at correctional exercises and stretches we can do if we find large imbalances or issues.

Posture & Health– Why it Matters & What to Look For

grayscale photo of man

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If you are not constantly aware of your posture, the implications, and how to manage it, then you may find yourself with a variety of musculoskeletal problems. However, I will provide you with a simple way to check for and correct postural imbalances over the next few blogs.

First, what are the implications of bad posture?

Misaligned postural integrity can cause imbalances in muscle groups, leading to lessened joint mobility and injury. Typical complaints include low-back pain, ankle sprains, and tendonitis (Clark, Lucett, McGill, Montel, & Sutton, 2008). If these sorts of nagging problems are a motif in your life, then you should take this simple test. 

Check Your Static Posture

One’s static (standing still) postural presentation is an indicator of the consistent positions that the body is held in. You may know your postural tendencies because they are likely linked to your line of work and hobbies, but many people are unaware. Use mirrors, a camera, or have a friend check your posture from different points of view: front (anterior), side (lateral), and back (posterior).

It is important to check the kinetic chain (Feet, Knees, Hips, Shoulders, & Head) from each perspective .

four people holding green check signs standing on the field photography

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  1. Front (anterior):
    • Feet & ankles: Parallel and straight; no excessive rotations in or out
    • Knees: in line with the toes; no excessive rotations in or out
    • Hips: parallel to floor (no elevation on either side)
    • Shoulders: level with no excessive rounding
    • Head: neutral with no tilt
  2. Side (lateral)
    • Feet & ankles: leg and foot perpendicular to each other at a 90 degree angle
    • Knees: in neutral position; not hyperextending
    • Hips: neutral; no forward or backward leaning
    • Shoulders: normal curve with no excessive rounding
    • Head: neutral; no excessive jutting forward
  3. Back (Posterior)
    • Feet & ankles: leg and foot perpendicular to each other at a 90 degree angle
    • Knees: in neutral position; not hyperextending
    • Hips: neutral; no forward or backward leaning
    • Shoulders: normal curve with no excessive rounding
    • Head: neutral; no excessive jutting forward

To keep it simple, there are three main structural problems that underlie most issues, so take notes:

person holding blue ballpoint pen writing in notebook
  1. Pronation Distortion Syndrome (Knock knees):
    • feet pronate and are flat (rotate internally)
    • knees rotate internally
  2. Lower crossed syndrome:
    • anterior pelvic tilt (excessively arched lower back)
  3. Upper crossed syndrome:
    • forward head
    • rounded shoulders

If you find problematic areas after running these quick checks, then you may be on to something. You may start to realize that these small imbalances and quirks are the basis of some of the nagging problems you have had. I will provide you with some simple stretches and exercises to alleviate these problems soon.

If everything has checked out thus far, then you have completed level one of your postural assessment!

In the next blog I will take you through level 2, a dynamic postural check that will uncover most  weaknesses or imbalances in your kinetic chain– the overhead squat.

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References
Clark, M. A., Lucett, S. C., McGill, E., Montel, I., & Sutton, B. (2018). NASM essentials of personal fitness training. Burlington: Jones & Bartlett Learning.