Here are four key themes to integrate into your daily stretches to help your tissues stay open, springy and elasticated – just as they love and deserve!
1) Keep stretches dynamic and not static
Moving gently in and out of a stretch helps to keep the nervous system attentive to what changes are being made through the connective tissue. It can be dangerous, especially for athletes, to hold a stretch statically for more than 60 seconds, as the length-tension relationship of the muscle has changed, but the brain has no memory of it. It is therefore best to keep the stretch moving, or perform more repetitions that are held for a shorter length of time.
2) Never EVER stretch into pain, aim for 6/10 pain level
Any more than 6/10 and your muscles will contract through fear of tearing. When the muscle tissue is being pulled at an uncomfortable length it sends a message to the brain saying it’s in trouble, the brain then tells the muscle to contract and protect. So even though you’re feeling a stretch there is no lengthening happening – which basically means you’re wasting your time.
3) Breathe and relax into the stretch
At the beginning of an exhale there is a 1/4 of a second of nervous system inhibition – in other words there is a moment at the start of the exhale where you can sink deeper into the stretch. Take a deep breath in, and on the long exhale relax deeper into the stretch – let go.
4) Keep focussed on what you’re trying to achieve
There are many scientific reasons why the brain must have a clear objective if it is to achieve any lasting results. Don’t forget how chemistry affects structure and interweaves with our emotions and state of mind – stretch with aggression while thinking about your workload and your muscles will never gain length or elasticity. Focus your mind into the area you’re wanting to open – notice how it feels and gently coax your nervous system into allowing the muscle tissues to release and find space. Be patient and gentle.
Other tips to help find space and elasticity during a workout:
- Always warm up before you work out – about 5 mins or so of gentle jogging / running on the spot / brisk walking / star jumps / jumping rope. If you feel the need to stretch do a very mild version of each stretch or move through lengthened positions without holding them statically.
- Warming up helps to increase your body temperature, gets your tissues and joints feeling nice and fluid, and increases your range of movement so your muscles will stay safer during your more intense work out.
- Always save your deep stretching for AFTER exercise and NEVER before – if you lengthen a muscle during a stretch then ask it to contract quickly under load you may end up causing yourself an injury.
- Deep stretching brings better blood flow to your muscles and helps lubricate your joints by simulating more synovial fluid. It also helps remove lactic acid which builds up from the minor muscle tearing that happens while working out. Deep open-and-release work will also help flush your body with fresh blood and nutrients to help build new muscle fibres and get rid of old ones. This speeds up the recovery process and means your muscles won’t be as sore the following day.
(IMGS: Noah Wilcox)