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The Politics of Self-Stretching
This is a brief article regarding self-stretching ‘politics’. It does not provide stretching benefits or details as the web has loads of information on stretching, but outlines the different views regarding stretching. I have called it ‘Politics of Self-Stretching’ to make it a light-hearted article giving you information to help you decide which stretching ‘party’ suits your body type. No one-stretch methodology fits all!
Stretching is good for you. I’m not the most frequent stretcher and sometimes fail to follow my own advice! Like others I struggle with time and motivation to do it proactively but do have regular massages that include facilitated stretching work that really help, and do stretch re-actively when I know I have a problem area.
I do promote the benefits of self-stretching as over time muscles will naturally shorten and this can frequently lead to muscle imbalance or a problem later. So stretching is important but you can stretch too far! It is difficult to overstretch (unless you are hyper-mobile, see separate article), as a stretch ‘reflex’ cuts in (a body limit switch) which will normally stop you. Sometimes however does not happen quickly enough with big swinging stretches called ‘dynamic stretches’ that pass the body’s limit switch.
So you could conclude that dynamic stretches are not good – is this true? Well, yes and no, depending on the situation, person and political stretching views! Whatever your view, most sporting professionals do agree that a short warm up is necessary before stretching and you should use your breathing to help you stretch properly and safety.
One thing that I do, and also promote is ‘double tasking stretching’ i.e. stretching while doing something else, like a quads stretch while you are standing filling up the car with petrol, or a calf stretch while traveling up an escalator, or a pecks stretch while reading something on the PC. I always do some stretching in between sets at the gym. There are loads of ways to double task a stretch and many that no one will notice in everyday activities!
The ‘Political’ Views
The traditional conservative static stretch – this is basically one muscle at a time where the client performs the stretch unaided, the stretch position is maintained for about 30 seconds and then repeated. This is good way of stretching an injured muscle during recovery.
This is more ‘labour’ intensive than individual static stretches and a ‘new-ish’ way for the whole body to stretch and help with fascia restrictions. This still works on the muscles but with more emphasis on their associated fascia which needs to lengthen in a body stretch. This needs to be done slowly (some advocate 5 minutes per stretch) with a gentle and continuous load on the fascia rather than the muscles. This is better for the whole body where restricted fascia is an issue. (See my separate article on Fascia).
This liberal approach gives more freedom to the stretch method and is better performed with a stretching partner. It is similar to the conservative static stretch, but is only held for 2 seconds then relaxed and repeated a dozen times. You can also use the opposite muscles to bring about the stretch, eg. using the quadriceps to help stretch the hamstrings. The stretching partner can assist and encourage the client to perform the stretch for better results. This method can be very effective but does not have the general support or following of the other two methods above.
These are normally ‘niche views’ but have a growing following using dynamic or active (ballistic) stretching. The muscles are bounced repeatedly and rhythmically using arm and leg movements to help take the limb to the limits of the associated joint range. Movements should normally be gentle and controlled, but in ballistic stretching they are forceful and less controlled. Plyometrics is another form of ballistic training with sudden stretch of the muscle and is controversial due to the high risk of injury if poorly executed. These methods are more for sporty people and can produce great results where other methods prove ineffective.
Other parties also promote foam rollers, exercise bands and group activities like Yoga, pilates or even kettle bell training that gives a form of a whole body stretch etc. I personally use foam rollers and have a selection of different types. They can be very effective if used slowly and correctly using your breathing to relax yourself. They can be a little unpleasant to use at first as they can produce pain, but are good for fascia issues if you persevere.
There are many differing views on stretching methods, with varying advantages and risks associated with the different types. You should find out what suits you best and what you get results with. We are all different with different needs, body types, stress levels, postures, work practices etc, so each different method has its place, the key is to work out what suits you personally. Advice can be given by your therapist who knows your body type and any conditions you may have.
I hope you have enjoyed this different take on “political views” of stretching.
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