Focus Your Stretching Program on Principles Instead of Stretching Methods!
There is so much conflicting research on when and how to stretch that it can frustrating for someone looking to improve their athletic performance or for someone looking to increase their flexibility. In the book “Stretch to Win,”
authors Ann and Chris Fredernick have outlined 10 principles for successful stretching. A stretching program is an essential component of any strength and conditioning program and if done correctly and repeated often enough, it will make sufficient gains in your ROM.
The Stretch To Win program
is a combined 40 years of clinical experience, research and professional practice. At the core of their system are 10 principals that will take your flexibility further. In my massage business most my clients, who do stretch, typically have a very generic stretching program that does not address their specific needs (i.e age, sport/activity or baseline of flexibility
) and therefore is ineffective for achieving any reasonable goals.
Flexibility and Mobility
is the ability to flex, extend, or move a joint through its intended full range of motion. This is in regards to the ability of the tissues to lengthen, nothing more. Mobility
is the ability to move a joint through its full range of motion, with control at a specific joint. Another way to look at this comparison is that mobility requires active movement and strength/motor control, whereas flexibility requires static holds and passive forceswhere strength is not a necessary component.
The relationship between mobility and flexibility:
If joint mobility is restricted, then the flexibility of the muscle tissue around the joint will show a decreased range of motion. This is because muscles will only do what they are told and if they are continually held in a shortened range of motion then they will become shorter over time.
For example, if you have limited range of motion in your ankle joints then you will never achieve a full stretch of your calf muscles no matter how much you stretch them. On the other hand if you have chronically tight hamstrings, over time, you may develop poor mobility of the hips and limit joint mobility at your lumbar spine.
10 Principles to a Successful Stretching Program
- Synchronize Breathing and Movement: The mechanical action of inhaling and exhaling works synchronously with your nervous system which in turn influences your heart rate and blood pressure. This either calms your system down or revs it up. Muscle tone is automatically set and regulated in the CNS in the part of the brain called the cerebellum and the spinal cord. With this understanding of breathing you can influence muscle relaxation for a deeper stretch or increase muscle tension for dynamic movements.
- Tune Your Nervous System: Tuning your nervous system will enhance and prepare your body to meet the demands and goals of your activity. If your intention is to warm up for a game then your goal is to increase your breathing and stretching movements to increase blood flow to your working muscles. Post-activity/event is your time for mind/body recovery and restoration of your flexibility that may have suffered during intense physical activity. Tuning your nervous to either activate your sympathetic or parasympathetic system is the goal here.
- Follow a Logical Anatomical Order: In general terms it’s best to stretch the layers of the joint capsule, followed by stretching the overlying deeper layers of muscle before stretching the superficial layers of muscles. Following this anatomical order has shown to produce better flexibility results. After the joint capsule and shorter single-joint muscles are released, the longer multi-joint muscles may be stretched more effectively. Stretch from deep to superficial and from short single joint muscles to longer multi-joint muscles. Another consideration is to stretch the muscles that have shown to be chronically short and is limiting the range of motion and inhibits proper functioning of its antagonists muscle.
- Gain Range of Motion Without Pain: The “no pain, no gain” approach does not work for stretching muscles and other connective tissues of the body. And in some cases may increase a bracing or protective action that may result against your stretching efforts. A very important part of increasing your range of motion without pain is learning how to release or come out of your stretch while avoiding the “rebound effect of stretching”. This is when immediately after stretching your muscles have a tendency to tighten-up if the stretch is too intense, deep or prolonged.
- Stretch Fascia, Not Just Muscle: Fascia is a specific type of connective tissue in the body and it is just as important as muscle for improved flexibility. Stretching across continuous lines of the body and understanding the three dimensional structures and function of the body is key to gaining optimal flexibility. Learning how to line up the joints of your hip and T-spine and using movements of your legs and arms to emphasize certain angles, you can target certain fascial connections, stretching multiple planes along your entire body all at once. This is much different than isolating a certain muscle and stretching it.
- Use Multiple Planes of Movement: Understanding movement from a three dimensional perspective and implementing a stretching program that focuses on this aspect will greatly enhance your ability to improve athleticism and reduce your chances of an injury. This is really important for sport specific training such as throwing a baseball or swinging a golf club which requires coordinated movement in all 3 planes of movement. The 3 planes of movement are extension or flexion, adduction or abduction, and internal or external rotation; moving through these spiral-diagonal patterns is the most effective strategy.
- Target the Entire Joint: Almost 50% of a healthy person’s lack of ROM at the joint has been suggested in research findings to be due to the tightness of his or her joint capsules (Johns and Wright 1962). When the joint capsule gets tight, it has a tendency to adhere or become “glued down” to the underlying bone, so keeping joint capsules mobile is key to functional range of motion. When the joint capsule becomes tight, the muscle will also become short and tight. You must understand basic joint function and your flexibility program should also include joint mobility stretches and exercises.
- Use Traction: In order to get maximum length of chronically tight tissues, it’s necessary to traction and stretch all the tissues along the fascial track (i.e. ligaments, joint capsule, tendons and muscle). In addition to stretching muscle tissue, joint traction works to circulate the synovial fluid within the bursa which “washes or lubricates”the joint. Since the joints have no direct blood supply, they are nourished by movement which simultaneously removes carbon dioxide and metabolic wastes.
- Facilitate Body Reflexes: Stretching techniques such as PNF (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation), CR (contract-relax) and CRAC (contract-relax-agonist-contract) are well-known neurological reflexes applications that enable your body to take advantage of small windows of opportunity to improve ranges of motion and flexibility that static stretching alone would not.
- Adjust Stretching to Your Goals: Three factors to consider when designing any stretching program are intensity, duration and frequency. The intensity of the stretch is determined by how far you can go into the stretch or range of motion safely without pain or injury. The duration of the stretch is determined by how long, you can hold the stretch to get the most gain in flexibility without a “stretch reflex” from occurring. And the frequency is determined by how often you must repeat the stretching sequences over the course of the day or week to get optimal results from your specific goals.