I’ve had my fair share of over- stretched and pulled muscles and it’s not a fun thing to go through.
Stretching is important and usually very underrated. It’s often done quickly, aggressively, and often the same familiar muscles over and over again.
I’m guilty of doing this myself in the past. I remember the days of thinking that I needed to feel a deep sensation in order to be doing any good.
But now I know that gentle stretching is the safest and most effective way to stretch.
Stretching muscles in a healthy way improves the gliding capacity of the muscles and fascia (so they slide against each other more easily), can improve mobility, strength and resiliency, plus it helps to prevent injuries.
What makes stretching a bit tricky is that sometimes we don’t feel muscle tightness where we expect to. Muscles we thought were tight may not be the ones that necessarily need the stretching.
Stretching one area may give relief to an ache or pain in a completely different area of the body, because the fascia is connected throughout the body. Stretches can be very specific, like myofascial stretches, and they can also be more global and/or general, like with Pilates when you stretch (and strengthen) longer chains of muscles.
A few more things to remember about stretching:
1. The goal of stretching is to improve and maintain elasticity in the muscle and fascia. A tight muscle is often also a weak muscle. If you improve a muscle’s elasticity then you also improve its contractibility. Stretching muscles in a healthy way improves the gliding capacity of the muscles and fascia (so they slide against each other more easily), can improve mobility, strength and resiliency, plus it helps to prevent injuries.
2. Stretching with a gentle, “friendly” tension respects the limits of your body and uses your own muscular strength to create an even strength/flexibility balance around a joint.
Never force a stretch. Know your flexibility limits. A sustainable contraction of the muscles opposite to the muscles you want to stretch helps to prevent over-stretching. It also helps you to avoid stretching ligaments and other connective tissue that may cause injury. Find a tension that feels not too easy but not too forceful.
3. Move carefully in and out of your stretch.
Ease your body into and out of the stretching positions slowly and with careful control so that you don’t create a rebound effect by too quickly releasing the stretch.
4. Know the difference between warm-up and stretching.
We warm up before activity, we stretch after. Static stretching should generally not be done as a warm up. Warm up is meant to gently mobilize and prepare our joints and muscles. Warm up movements are dynamic and not necessarily extended to full range of motion. On the other hand, stretching relaxes the muscles. Holding a stretch for at least 30 seconds gives the muscle a chance to stretch gradually, restoring the quality and elasticity of the muscle tissue and fascia.
Hoping that this gives you a little more understanding about how and why to include stretching in your routine.
Still feel like you need more guidance with stretching? I teach myofascial stretching in my Pilates combo classes on Tuesdays at 12:15 EST! Join us in August. (There is NO CLASS July 19th and 26th.)
In the meantime if you enroll with the subscription before August 1 you get full access to the last 12 classes! Click here to sign up. Email me with any questions!