We all know, or at least have heard, about the importance of stretching. Whether it is to improve your athletic performance, for general health and wellness, or to relieve pain and tension, stretching can be the answer. The real question is what kind of stretching should we be doing to get the best results. When it comes to stretching, there are three main techniques: static, dynamic, and ballistic stretching.
Static stretching is what typically comes to mind when talking about stretching. It is a form of active or passive stretching in which you hold a position for about 30-60 seconds, allowing the muscles and their connective tissues, fascia, to lengthen. This is the most commonly known style of stretching and has been seen as the status quo for years. This style of stretching may not be the best way to improve performance before physical activity. Using a static stretching program prior to engaging in physical activity may inhibit the muscle’s ability to fire properly. The primary reason for this is a reduction in muscle tension and an increase in length between resting muscle fibers. These two factors alter the length-tension relationship of the muscle, causing a decrease in muscle excitability. This in turn can directly affect the muscle’s ability to optimally function. Think of the tension in a rubber band. When you stretch a rubber band and hold that tension for a long period of time, you cause the rubber band to increase in length but lose the stored energy. The band’s tension is what allows the band to be functional. Our bodies rely on similar forces to propel us forward during a run, or allow us to jump high during a sport like basketball. If we overstretch our muscles, this inhibits elasticity, which inhibits our performance.
Dynamic stretching is a form of active stretching that is performed by engaging the desired muscle’s antagonist through the joint’s range of motion, only holding the stretch for 2-3 seconds. Because the stretch is only held briefly, the muscle is able to increase in length without a reduction in muscle tension or muscle excitability. By preventing the reduction in muscle tension, an individual is able to improve their range of motion without a loss in force production. Dynamic stretching is the style utilized by the therapists at LYMBR. This type of stretching is also referred to as a dynamic warm-up, which athletes use to prepare their muscles for the rigorous demands of their sport.
Ballistic stretching is the most controversial form of stretching. Unlike dynamic stretching, ballistic stretching utilizes muscle activation through quick, jerky movements. This inhibits the body’s stretch reflex and increases the muscle’s range of motion through the force created by the bouncing. The extra external force produced can overload the muscle, increasing the risk for potential injury. Because the high risk of injury does not outweigh the benefits of the stretch, most fitness professionals do not recommend using this style of stretching.
When looking at the three different styles of stretching, we can see that they can all be utilized to increase range of motion. Static stretching is the more well-know style and is commonly used for general stretching, but can inhibit muscle excitability, making it unappealing to people active in fitness and athletics. Dynamic stretching increases range of motion while maintaining muscle tension, making it useful for general stretching, fitness enthusiasts and athletes. Ballistic stretching can increase range of motion quickly, but has a higher risk of injury than other effective techniques. We all know we should stretch – stretching safely and effectively will help you reach your health and wellness goals.
In our next post, we will expand on our proprietary form of dynamic stretching called Progressive Dynamic Stretching.
Written by Rick Charron. Rick is a Stretch Therapist and manager of our Newton, MA studio.
You may feel that life did not bless you with the best knees. Whether you feel discomfort during a yoga pose, a run, or just moving about day to day – there is chance that a muscle a little higher up is the culprit.
The Gluteus Maximus and commonly known as your glute, is the biggest muscle in our body. This muscle helps to cushion us when we fall, externally rotate our legs, and propel us as we walk. This muscle can also be the cause of your knee pain. The Gluteus Maximus (one of three glute muscles) attaches to the top of your hip bone, right on the side. The muscle doesn’t stop there, it becomes a tendon and continues down to the outside of the knee. If this muscle does not have adequate flexibility, it affects the entire chain down the leg to your knee. So if someone favors one leg, juts their hip out when they stand, or habitually crosses their legs, they could develop a knee issue. We also see problems with athletes such as runners and with people that spend long hours sitting at their desks.
Working on the Glute Max and surrounding muscles releases muscular tension that can be influencing the hips and knees. Releasing this tension can give you the best chance to hold a longer pose, run a little farther, or move more comfortably through your day.
As the cold days of winter start to add up, you may start to notice pain and discomfort in your body. This is a natural and very common occurrence this time of year. When our bodies start to get cold, the first thing we do is hike up our shoulders, round our back and bury our chin. Even while sleeping, we curl into a ball in hopes that we will get that satisfying warmth. And chances are, you are not moving as much as you do in warmer weather.
In colder weather, our nervous system activates changes within our bodies to help regulate body temperature. Vasoconstriction occurs, where muscles tighten to constrict blood vessels throughout the body. Less heat reaches the surface of our bodies and in turn our core temperature can remain steady for our vital organs (Homeostasis).
Our bodies adapt to the positions that they are put in and the conditions they are exposed to. Over time, our muscles will shorten and become stiff.
Having a rounded back and shoulders, along with a protruded chin places a lot of stress on the upper back and shoulders. Stretching the muscles in the neck, upper back and shoulders which all support the cervical and thoracic portion of the spine, provide a lot of relief. Muscles like the trapezius, levator scapula, sternocleidomastoid, and rhomboids. These muscles are also very important for maintaining proper posture. After having these muscles stretched, people often feel taller and more open, and feel relief from pain and stiffness.
Temperature plays an important role in the way your muscles contract. It’s a lot more difficult for muscles to contract in cold weather as opposed to warmer conditions. The temperature affects how easily oxygen is released from hemoglobin to the muscle. In colder weather, the rate that oxygen is released is slower. Which means there is less oxygen available for the muscle, causing the muscle contraction to be difficult. This is where stiffness is felt. Oxygen intake is very important, as it is what fuels the muscle.
By regularly stretching with good form, you are promoting efficient blood circulation. The circulating blood provides oxygenated rich blood and nutrients to the muscle. This fresh blood is what is needed for the muscle to have proper function, strength, and flexibility.
Another way to increase your oxygen intake is to get more exercise. Be sure to warm up with active stretches and movements first. Injuries like muscle strains happen more often while exercising with cold muscles. Active stretching helps blood circulation to the muscles and warms them up.
Let’s continue to stay active and avoid poor movement patterns in the upcoming winter months. This can be achieved by warming up before exercise and properly stretching. Stay warm and BeLYMBR!
Written by, Michael Eaton. Michael is a Stretch Therapist and Asst Manager in our Darien, CT studio.
The idea that tight muscles perform better is a common misconception.
In order for muscles to perform at their best and protect a joint, they must not only be strong, they must be flexible. It doesn’t matter how strong your muscles are around a joint, if they lack flexibility you risk imbalance and injury.
A strong muscle has the ability to lengthen and shorten at an adequate rate while acclimating to the forces placed on it. When the muscle is tight, it lacks the ability to fire properly due to poor adjustments to tensions being placed on it. When a muscle fires incorrectly, it causes a chain reaction throughout the entire body, throwing off your balance, posture and functional ability.
When a muscle lacks flexibility, it also restricts your joint’s range of motion, decreasing mobility, and creating muscular imbalances around that joint. In all sports and activities, proper form is imperative for maximum results and to prevent injury. Proper form can only be achieved if all the muscles that are involved in the movement are healthy and flexible and able to meet the demands being placed on them.
A tennis player came to see us complaining of recurring elbow bursitis. After evaluation, we found that her bursitis was a result of tight muscles surrounding her elbow joint. This tightness caused a friction force to be applied to the bursa, inflaming it. We stretched the muscles that surround her shoulder and elbow in order to increase blood flow and decrease pressure in the joint. After two sessions with our stretch therapist, the client reported that her pain was 100% relieved. Now that her elbow joint is more mobile, and the muscles are able to fire properly, she is able to play multiple sets without the added stress on her bursa.
Continued sessions with us have helped her to decrease tension forces in her elbow, increase mobility, enhance her posture and improve her tennis form and performance. She is now able to play longer and stronger without pain. Regular stretching sessions have taken her game to another level.