5 STRETCHES TO DO EVERY DAY | CONOR | AUGUST 2017
Stretching is a very important tool that has to be one of the most under-utilised aspects of training. It helps people to become more mobile, decreases recovery time, stops muscle imbalances and most importantly, is used to decrease the chances of becoming injured. The time and type of stretching that is done is a big factor in determining the benefits of the stretching.
Muscles become tight if they are held in a constantly shortened state. This is called Adaptive Shortening. One of the most common areas that Adaptive Shortening occurs is in the hip flexors. Through sitting at a desk all day, the hip flexors are held in a shortened state and if they are not lengthened through stretching or exercise, overtime they will become and remain shortened. Another problem area is the upper trapezius. This muscle can become shortened through reasons such as an incorrectly organised work station or a general state of stress being held in the shoulders.
The muscles becoming increasingly shortened isn’t a massive problem in itself, the bigger problem is what these shortened muscles act upon that causes the imbalances.
A muscle’s job is to act on the skeletal structure to create movement or to hold the skeleton still whilst another part moves. When these muscles aren’t working in the way they are meant to then that is where muscle imbalance and, at worst, injuries can occur. If a muscle becomes progressively shorter, it will constantly pull on the bones it is attached to. This will disable that bone from moving it’s full, intended range. In a day to day setting, that shortening and subsequent inability to gain full range of motion might not be too much of a problem. However, if it continues for a long time; when playing sports or doing anything that involves speed, weight and/or co-ordination, this limitation can cause some serious problems.
A very common example is, again, that of the hip flexors. When the hip flexors are tight they will pull the pelvis forward, this in turn will cause all sorts of problems: lengthening of the hamstrings and abdominals (i.e become weaker), shortening erectors of back (becoming short and stiff) and then pain can/will occur.
Stretching the muscles can help in numerous ways to combat the above problems. Here are just a few;
Flexibility - Stretching helps to keep the muscles at their intended length. When the muscles are warm, stretching will help to keep them from becoming short and tight when they cool down. By keeping the muscles at their ideal length, stretching will help to ensure the body is able to move through its full range of movement.
Recovery - Tight muscles can cause a blockage of nutrients to the muscle, especially when the muscle becomes a trigger point. This will essentially stop all nutrients (and especially oxygen) reaching the whole muscle. Stretching will increase the blood flow to the muscles and bring them a greater nutrient supply, thereby reducing muscle soreness and helping speed recovery.
Posture - Stretching helps posture by lengthening tight muscles that are pulling areas of the body away from their intended position. Stretching the muscles of the lower back, chest and shoulders can help keep the spine in better alignment and improve overall posture.
The most effective way to release tight muscles is through a process called Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF).
PNF stretching is where the muscle is actively contracted and then relaxed. This is important as the release of tight muscles requires more than a simple hold. This is due to the fact that tightness occurs from more than just physiological factors.
Muscle tightness can occur when your body’s neuromuscular control becomes overprotective and overactive. This effectively means that the nerves that attach to a specific muscle are hyperactive and have caused the muscle to contract. This means there will therefore be no movement until those nerves are turned ‘off’ and the muscle is allowed to stretch.
By contracting a muscle and then relaxing the same muscle, it will effectively tell the nerve to switch off and the muscle will be free to move.
Here are some simple stretches that can be done for the main muscle groups that become tight and short. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds and repeating twice.
Lie on your back and place a Pilates ring/Resistance band/Towel over the arch of your foot. Draw the toes towards your chest and push the heel up towards the ceiling. Hold the stretch at the point of discomfort - it should not be painful.
Kneel in front of an object which is at least knee height - facing away from the object. Rest the top of one foot upon or up against the surface of the object. Move the other leg forward so that the foot is placed flat on the floor in front of the body. Push the hips forward so that you feel a stretch in the front of the back leg.
Begin in the press up position with the hands inside shoulder width. Step the left leg
forwards, placing the foot flat outside the left hand. The rear leg should remain straight (by pushing the heel backwards) and the front knee should push forwards. The stretch should be felt through the hips on the rear leg and the Glutes on the front leg.
Starting in a push up position with arms held straight; bring up one knee so that it Is trying to touch the elbow of the opposite side. Rest that leg/knee down on the floor so that the whole shin is flat on the floor and as much of the upper thigh as possible. Lower the body down towards the leg so that you feel a large stretch through the glutes of the leg that you brought up.
Begin on all fours with your knees and hands on the floor. Then lift your chest and stomach as far away from the floor as possible, ducking your head down so that it rests in between your arms. Then tilt the pelvis in the opposite position to create an arch inyour back, and lift your head towards the ceiling. Repeast this movement 10 times at a slow pace.
Consistency is the key. Ideally after every time that exercise is performed a stretching regime should be followed, it is important to fit it into your lifestyle.
In this day and age we are becoming more and more conscious of our health and well-being; making sure that we exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet. It is becoming increasingly brought to our attention how important it is to keep stretching in the mix too.