Improve Your Flexibility
Poor flexibility is a common cause of injuries
ranging from acute muscle strains to chronic tendonitis. Stretching
before activities is one of the best ways to prevent sports injuries.
Flexible muslces allow for greater ranges of motion, as well as more
strength and power production during activities. So how should you go
of a Muscle
Muscles are made up of both contractile and non-contractile tissues.
The contractile tissues are actually responsible for creating movement,
through a process of contraction which causes the muscle to shorten.
The non-contractile tisses, or connective tissues, help to hold the
Benfits of Stretching
Most athletes know that stretching before and after activities is a
good thing to do, however, knowing and actually doing are two very
different things. Stretching before activities can provide several
First, it allows for the muscles to warm up, and places
controlled stress on the tissues, prior to activity. Having warm
muscles will increase their ability to contract, as well as increase
their ability to stretch.
Second, stretching also helps to increase the blood
flow to the muscles. Increased blood flow will also add to a muscles
ability to contract.
Flexibile, warm muscles are much less likely to be strained. Think of
your muscles like a garden hose. In the summer months, when the hose is
warmed by the sun, it is much easier to bend and shape. Now, take that
same garden hose in january, and it becomes very rigid and doesn't bend
as easily. Muscles are much the same, working best when warm.
How to Stretch
Stretching should be performed after some type of warm up activity. I
generally recommend to my patients that they do some type of warm up
that causes them to break a sweat. This can be a light jog for 5-10
minutes, riding a stationary bike, stairmaster, or elliptical trainer.
Any type of warm up will do, as long as you get your heart rate up and
actually warm up your body.
Following your warm up, you should stretch all of
the major muscle groups. This includes the hamstrings, quadriceps,
hip-flexors, and lower back. If you are participating in a sport that
requires use of the upper body, you should also focus on your shoulder,
stretching the deltoid, pectoralis, triceps, and rotator cuff.
One of the most common
mistakes that people make when stretching is not holding the stretch
for long enough. Stretches should be held for at least 30 seconds, if
not longer. This amount of time is necessary because you have to get
the muscle to relax in order to stretch the underlying connective
tissue as well. Let me explain.
Remember the last time you had a physical, and your
doctor tapped your knee with a little hammer. It caused your quadriceps
to contract, and your leg to move. What that little hammer actually did
was produce a very quick stretch on the quadriceps muscle.
Deep inside the muscles are little
mechanoreceptors. Mechanoreceptors are essentially little monitors
within the muscle that help the body keep track of tension, changes in
length, and the rate of length changes within the muscle.
these things, and then send messages back to the brain, which then
decides whether the muscle should contract or relax. When your doctor
tapped your knee with the hammer, the mechanoreceptors detected this
stretch in the quadriceps, and told your muscle to contract to help
protect it from stretching out too much. This is called a stretch
reflex, and it is a way that your body protects your muscles from being
In order to get a good stretch on your muscles, you
need to overide these mechanoreceptors, and get the muscle to relax as
much as possible. The best way to do that is to hold your stretch for
30 seconds or longer. After about 20 seconds, your muscles will relax,
and you will be stretching the underlying connective tissue as well.
This is the key to increasing flexibility.
How long you hold the stretch isn't as
important as just making sure that you DO stretch.
about functional stretching? While static stretching requires holding
the stretch for 20-30 seconds, functional stretching is much shorter.
The muscle may be in a shortened position, and the stretch accompanied
by an active contraction. I use lots of functional stretching, and
usually have patients hold the stretch for 2-3 seconds, repeating 5-10
How Many Stretches?
How much you should
stretch will depend on what type of activity you are participating in,
as well as how flexible you are. Obviously, if you are not very
flexible, then you will need to stretch more than someone who is. Most
of the time, I recommend to my patients that they stretch each musle
group 5 times, holding each stretch for 30 seconds or longer.
If you really want to increase how flexible you are, then you should
make stretching part of your daily routine, whether your are
particpating in sports or not. Stretching just before a game or workout
will probably not increase your flexibility very much, but will help
with prevention of injury. To make gains, you need to
stretch everyday, once or twice. In the morning after a hot shower, and
in the evening before bed are great times to stretch. Stretching after
your workout or game is also a great time to stretch, as your muscles
are very warm and flexible.
Muscles are Healthy Muscles
Flexibility is an important part of sports injury prevention. Proper
stretching includes a warm up, 3-5 repetitions for each muscle group,
and holding each stretch for 30 seconds or longer. As it
increases, you should notice less muscle soreness after workouts, less
stiffness, and an overall improvement in your game.
a little guidance to get your
stretching program going?
Download a free copy of Flexibility
Solutions: Lower Body
- You will learn some of the best
the lower body. Step by step instructions with pictures. The whole
program can be done in as little as 10 minutes a day - and best of all,
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