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Stretching: How To Improve Your Flexibility Fast

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 15 March 2014
Hits: 3642

Stretching is an ancient form of exercise that goes deeper into evolution than man himself . For example my bulldog Mack, every day after having a snooze, gets up and does a series of stretches to loosen up before his walk! Most martial arts and athlete training programs for weightlifters, gymnasts, sprinters incorporate stretching as an integral part of their development. Stretching has also been part of healing practices for thousands of years, Tai Chi used in Chinese medicine is common practice as a form of healing. Yet for many people today it is often ignored, overlooked, misunderstood and even abused. So does that mean everyone should start stretching all the time. Well, not exactly. This article will help you to understand stretching better and how it applies to you. 

 

WHO SHOULD STRETCH?

Almost everybody can benefit from stretching but it does not mean you need to dedicate endless hours or do Yoga 3 times a week to achieve flexibility. Actually what we commonly find is the people who do Yoga 3 times a week need to tighten up and stop stretching! People move towards activities they are great at. So if you are good at stretching you tend to devote time to doing it and begin to overdo it, but if you are as tight as an ironing board you will not enjoy it and avoid it all together. Where the people who devote too much time to stretching go wrong, is they stretch everything, meaning they stretch muscles that don't need stretching. These are the people who can pull their feet to their head and tell you they feel tight! On the flipside go to any gym at night and see how many guys are doing stretches. You will be lucky to find one, yet these are the people who should be devoting time to stretching as their muscles are too tight. Many people spend most of their day sitting behind a computer or in a car and go home to sit on the couch and sit some more. This results in muscle imbalances and loss of flexibility. If this is you, then you need to stretch.

POSTURE AND KNOWING WHAT TO STRETCH

Your posture gives you many clues as to what you need to stretch. Good posture means the muscles are in perfect balance. Poor posture places abnormal amount of pressure on joints, muscles and tendons causing pain. Poor posture always indicates the need for a stretching program to lengthen short tight muscles and strengthen long weak muscles.  The short tight muscles are commonly known as Tonic or Postural muscles and have a tendency to be workaholics. (examples are TFL, upper traps, hamstrings) The remaining muscles are known as Phasic muscles or Mover muscles and they have a tendency to be lazy. (Examples are Gluteal muscles, Rhomboids, Serratus anterior) What is very important here is the order of correcting the imbalance must be to Stretch tight muscles first and then strengthen. Stretching weakens muscles which is exactly what needs to be done to the Tonic muscles. This is because the Tonic muscles will continue to work hard and take over the movements of the movers, even when not required, unless you weaken them first. The lazy Phasic muscles are quite happy to let them do it so by forcing them into action by stretching and weakening the tight muscles you will have a better chance of getting more out of your strength program.  An example of this would be to stretch the hips and quads before completing a lunge to force the gluteal muscles and hamstrings to do their share of the work.

WHEN SHOULD I STRETCH?

The best time to stretch is late at night right before bed. This is because the body does most of its tissue healing at night, and when you lengthen short tight muscles before bed they heal in a lengthened position for a long period of time before you shorten it again. This will reap massive rewards. I had a severe hamstring and groin problem 6 years ago and adopted this approach religiously for over a year and improved my flexibility considerably! It is not wise to stretch before playing sport or a workout, unless you are certain it is a problem muscle that is inhibiting your movements. This is because stretching before sports affects the body’s sense of balance and proprioception of knowing where your arms and legs are in space. Dynamic stretching or a prolonged warm up is better idea as muscles need to be warm in order to stretch.

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO STRETCH?

The best method for maximum results is the PNF or contract relax method. This requires you to stretch the target muscle to its maximum tension and then activate contraction in the same muscle against an immovable object or person for five seconds. You would then relax for five seconds before repeating 2-3 more times. It is very important to use relaxed breathing to get the best results. If you don't believe me try holding your breath and stretching,  it is very difficult. This is because all of the blood flow is reduced from lack of oxygen and the body is being given a command to tighten everything. So this also means if you have a problem with your breathing you will also start to tighten up all of your Tonic muscles. Think of what happens when you are stressed, do you stand up straight and take nice soft long breaths, or do you hunch over, breathe short and shallow and look at the ground, feeling like you need a massage for your neck? Another important point here is to stretch muscles from head to toe. This is because the higher in the spine a muscle is, the more muscle spindles that have nerve receptors from the brain meaning that messages to tighten up are thick and fast near your head as opposed to your feet. Eg Neck muscles get tight from negative thoughts, anxiety, stress whereas your calf right at the other end of your body does have all that traffic in its nerves so it does not tighten up as much.

SUMMARY

If your guitar was out of tune would you stretch all the strings? Or if your bicycle wheel was not well balanced would you loosen all of the spokes? No. You would apply a method of testing each spoke to see if it is too tight and loosen it or tighten it if it is too loose. This is exactly what you need to do with a stretching program. Remember stretching muscles must be done when you are warm and not to be too aggressive. Find out what is tight and begin to make time each day, mainly at night to loosen them.

References: “How To Eat Move Be Healthy” by Paul Chek & “Intelligent Stretching” by Paul Chek.

 

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