If we are honest with ourselves the majority of us are pretty bad at making sure that we stretch regularly. When we do stretch we know that the muscles feel shortened and tight and there is probably that small feeling of guilt and a vague promise to yourself that you will stretch more regularly in the future. Then to make up for all the lack of stretching you force your stretch too far…
Making up for missed stretching sessions by trying to fit it into one almighty stretch routine (that makes torture seems like a day at the beach) is going to lead to problems.
So what’s so special about stretching?
Stretching is very similar to ordinary exercise in that you don’t get results from one workout but a combination of regular workouts over a period of time. As with stretching it is the regular work that reaps results and not how far you can go in one sitting.
What can go wrong
If you have been going for it in your stretching sessions and finding little improvement it could be because you are forcing the stretch too far. The muscles are very clever and if they feel threatened by being stretched too far they will tighten up and protect the body. The result is potentially tighter muscles than when you started which can lead to further problems like bad backs.
Take care with those tendons
If you keep stretching like this the muscle can get tighter and tighter which means each time you stretch you not only are doing the opposite of what you want to achieve but you could be potentially stretching the tendons at either end of the muscle (tendons join the muscle to the bone and are not very elastic). If you stretch the tendons they could never recover, they have very little blood supply and as such don’t repair very easily. This will create a weakness in the tendons which could result in a muscle tendon join, (MTJ) tear or worse: a complete tear and separation from the bone (Ouch!). Probably not what you had planned when starting your stretching and in actual fact probably what you were trying to avoid in the first place!
… and another thing
That is not all though because if you stretch a muscle too much it is not only that muscle that could tighten up to protect itself, but also all the surrounding and interconnecting muscles could get affected as well. Not great results for a day’s stretching!
What you must do
Consider stretching in the same way as a yoga style event where you want to get your mind and body into a zen-like state – to get your muscles relaxed your mind must be relaxed. To help get into this state you must breathe deeply and slowly throughout the stretches.
Then select the muscle
Start by taking the muscle of your choice into the stretch very slowly. Don’t just drop into a stretch using the excuse of “well that’s where I usually feel the stretch” because your stretching limit can vary from hour to hour and day to day. Move slowly and in a controlled manner and as soon as you feel a pull in the muscle stop and hold it until it releases (this should only take a couple of seconds) then just keep moving and stopping each time you feel a pull.
Reaching the stretch point
There will come a point when the pull won’t relax and this is your sign that you have now reached the stretch point.
Take this stretch to a 7 out of 10 feeling; 1 being absolutely nothing and 10 being painful, a 7 should feel like a strong pull. Make sure that this pull is in the middle of the muscle and not at either end. If you feel it at the end then you are stretching too much and you must ease off. Hold that position for at least 40 seconds (breathing deeply throughout) and you should feel it ease off. Don’t just jump out of the stretch too eagerly but come very slowly out of it.
There you have it: the most perfect stretch for your muscle. You may find that you can’t stretch nearly as much with this technique as you have done in the past. This is a good thing though because now you are stretching properly you will be able to see some real improvements. Nice slow and steady progress!