http-equiv='refresh'/> Global Therapies: Stretching Part 4

Monday, 15 August 2011

Stretching Part 4

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Finally - he gets around to the bit actually about stretching instead of all the tedious stuff about muscle, fascia, collagen, emotion and stuff.
Yes, but the back story is important.
Understand before you do, take responsibility for what you do, don't just do it because someone tells you so.

Types of stretching for types of movement.
Stretching is not just about gaining flexibility, it is about warming up, it is about learning where your body is in space. Not all types of stretching will do all of that.
Developmental stretching will affect the PLASTICITY of muscles. You are looking for a plastic change in the tissue. Think about bending the lid of an ice cream box. Bend it for a short time, and it will go back to the original shape. The plastic "remembers" its original shape. Bend it for a long time and it plastically deforms into a new shape. This is the idea of a developmental stretch. It should not be done before exercise, and is training in and of itself. The muscles will need rest afterward.

Warming up before an event will incorporate getting blood into the muscles, increasing circulation and increasing the ELASTICITY of the muscles and fascia. Increasing rebound, becoming soft and flexible. You aren't looking for deformation of the muscle, you need may need speed, agility or to know exactly where your body is in space and time. This will need a different type of stretching, something that raises the sympathetic nervous system and gets you ready for whatever you are about to do.

Cooling down after an event will need another type of stretching as well. Bringing the parasympathetic nervous system into dominance, relaxing the body, elongating the tissues, enabling blood to bring nutrients to the muscles, and carry away metabolic waste. One stretch, or at least, one type of stretch does not do for all occasions.

Static Stretching
This is the old school way of stretching that we were always taught. Go into a stretch, Hold it. Hold it. Keep holding it. And release.
The problem with this, that I and most other inflexible people found with this, is that when you try to go into such a position, you tense muscles in order to attain the stretch. While trying to relax you find your entire body tensed up like a coiled spring, bringing more tension into it than releasing. The stretch starts to hurt, you can't breathe because you are tensing your abdominals, and it really is an unpleasant experience. Do this for a couple of days, the muscles feel like they hurt more and more, you become less flexible and eventually pack it in because the stretching that is meant to be making you light, limber and agile is making you feel old, achy and immobile. Sound familiar?

"Static" stretching is meant to be done as a developmental stretch. This is what you do in order to gain plastic length in your muscles, fascia and tendons. Obviously you don't want pain, because that indicates that soreness will occur in the future. When that happens, your muscles will feel tight, tired, achy and you won't want to stretch anymore.
So, go into a position where you know you will feel a stretch - like bending over to touch your toes. Don't force it, just hang where you naturally fall.
Then breathe.
Don't count, don't try to stretch any further, relax your muscles, and breathe. As you breathe in and out you may notice that the body rises and falls, you may also notice the body going deeper toward the ground. Then again you may not. Stay in the position as long as you feel it necessary. But whatever you do, DON'T force the stretch.

This is basically the idea for all developmental stretches. Get into a comfortable position where your muscles are not tensed, lean into where the stretch will be, don't force it, and breathe.
These stretches can go on for a while, don't rush it, just relax into it. If you aren't relaxing, you aren't doing it right.

Active stretching
This is where you purposefully contract the muscle which does the opposite action to the muscle you want to stretch. (for example, to stretch the Hamstrings, you engage the quads)- this has the effect of Reciprocal inhibition. In neuromuscular terms as you engage muscles that do one movement, the electrical signals stop the antagonist from contracting, and thus, they are "switched off" and able to stretch. This kind of stretch is not done with any support or prop and is a good tool for rehabilitation, but not so good for developmental stretching as there is always tension in one part of the body or other. The stretches are not held for a long time as the excessive muscular tension can become difficult to hold - about 10-15 seconds is the norm.

Passive stretching
Basically the same as Static stretching, but you have a partner, or a piece of apparatus which helps bring you into the stretch. This can obviously be hazardous and it is very important that there is no jerking or bouncing force applied to the stretched muscle. It is useful in gaining flexibility, but like static stretching, can be "overcooked" quite easily. You are not looking for pain, you are looking for a comfortable stretch.

PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation)
Fancy name, fancy stretch. You will need a partner, (if you don't have a partner, then isometric stretching is what you are doing, they are pretty much the same thing)
PNF stretching has evolved from a form of rehabilitation, it improves muscle strength, flexibility and can also help restore muscular firing patterns.
The muscle group to be stretched is placed so that it is under tension with the partner holding the limb so that it cannot move. The muscles to be stretched are contracted (isometrically - the partner prevents the limb from moving anywhere). This contraction is held for about 10 seconds, a deep breath is taken and on exhalation, the limb is relaxed and brought into stretch by the partner - this is held for about 20-30 seconds. Rest, and repeat.
There are a number of different thoughts and theories as to the amount of time for the stretch to be held, rest, etc. These timings are for guidance only.
Do Not use this technique on damaged muscles, don't use it to a pain threshold, don't over stretch.

Isometric stretching
For those who don't know, Isometric contraction of a muscle is where you contract it, and there is no movement of the limb. (as an example, try lifting a house, or pushing over a very large boulder. You will notice that even though you engage your muscles, the limbs don't move anywhere... THAT'S an isometric contraction).
To do an isometric stretch you need something to stretch against- to restrict the movement of the limb. Assume the position of stretch, and then contract the muscles that you are about to stretch, for about 10 seconds. Then take a deep breath and relax into the stretch for a generous amount of time.
This is quite a developmental stretch, and its probably not a good idea to be doing it day in day out. Some texts recommend waiting at least 48 hours between isometric stretching sessions, and it is not recommended for children or growing adolescents. 

Dynamic stretching
A swinging or bouncing motion is used in a movement - ostensibly to create greater range. This kind of stretching can be used to increase elasticity in the muscle in a pre-event session, but the gains are only ever elastic. They can also help with making fascia more elastic in the same kind of time. In easy terms, it makes the fascia more bouncy.
However, the motion should always be under control. The swing should never be uncontrolled and is in NO WAY ballistic. Dynamic stretching is controlled, gentle and purposeful. It is within range of motion and joints are NOT forced beyond their normal range.

As a note on ballistic stretching - once a popular form of stretching, using momentum from rapid swings and bounces, forcing joints and muscles beyond normal range - the risks of this kind of thing are way above and beyond any kind of gains. The short time that the muscle is beyond normal range gives no benefit to the athlete at all, and a muscle protecting mechanism is also set off, making the muscles shorter than when you started stretching - and so making them more liable to damage as you exercise. Ballistic stretching is probably not a good thing to be doing.

Pre-race/event stretching
Obviously you don't want to plastically affect the muscles in a long term way if you are just about to start doing exercise, or competing, you just want to get blood to them, warm them up, and get some elastic rebound going. There are two ways of doing this, one that affects the muscles more, and one that appears to affect the fascia more.
The principle is the same as static stretching, but with less time spent on each movement, and to a less deep level than you perhaps might if you were stretching "statically". This will create space in the tissues in order to help infuse areas with blood.
I know that "ballistic" stretching, has received a bad press - and rightly so in terms of flexibility gain. If you bounce into a stretch, the stretch reflex will kick in and the muscles will contract, doing the polar opposite of what you want them to do.
However, if you introduce a slight "mid-range" bounce-like movement (NOT end range - bad idea), this will help increase elastic recoil in fascia (source - some of the more recent findings by Schleip et al.). In personal terms - this means that my Achilles tendon is warmed up and has maximum elastic recoil when going into a race, instead of just feeling nice and warm.

Post event stretching
The idea of stretching at this time is to stop blood pooling in the muscles, get nutrients to the tissues that have been damaged, and get metabolic waste products out of the muscles and into the lymph system so that the body can deal with them. Post even stretching should be a mix of very light exercise and stretching. Generally 5 mins of exercise and 10 mins of stretching - or thereabouts. Go with what feels right. This is not a time for developmental stretching, that needs to be done at a time when you are not training. This is a time to help recover, relax, lengthen shortened tissues and ensure that everything works and moves as freely as it did before the training session.

Developmental stretching
To gain length and flexibility in tissue, this needs to be done relatively regularly. I don't even know if you should classify it as "stretching" as such, but just have it as part of your routine, an extra to be doing as you watch tv, just something that is done. That way, it feels less like a chore and less like something that you lie in bed at the end of the day and think "damn... I forgot to stretch today". Sit on the floor, work out what is tight, and slowly stretch the tissues. Breathe into it, like the static stretch explained above. Don't count, just feel, breathe, take it to a point of tension and no further. Do it gently and slowly, and come out of it slowly as well.
Make sure there is no excessive body tension, and work at the tissues all around the area.
Go slow. I know I keep saying it, but remember to breath.

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