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.