Do You Stretch and Not Get Any Looser?
Everything you know about stretching is probably wrong!
There’s way more to stretching than just pulling harder. It’s okay. You’re in good company, and it’s not your fault.
When your muscle is “tight” it’s because it’s short, right? So to make it longer you need to “stretch” it? And if I stretch harder then I’ll get even more flexible, right?
The answer is no, not necessarily. So why doesn’t it work? Let me explain.
The confusion is understandable because the words “tight” and “stretch” are actually quite misleading. Let’s take the hamstrings for example.
Many people have tight hamstrings. They reach down to touch their toes and it feels like there are bunches of knotted rope behind their legs. They say their hamstrings are tight because that’s what it feels like. But the truth is that their hamstrings aren’t physically any shorter than they would be if they were a ballet dancer. And stretching their hamstrings won’t ever make the muscle physically longer.
This is because range of the motion of a muscle isn’t determined by the physical length of the muscle but rather by the nervous system. You not being able to touch your toes isn’t because your hamstrings are literally shorter and literally need to be stretched. It’s because your nervous system isn’t allowing you to access that particular range of motion.
Why won’t your nervous system allow you to go into that range? Because it’s scared.
The body’s priority isn’t being able to do the splits. Your body’s priority is protecting itself. If a muscle is weak and can’t properly control a range of motion then the nervous system won’t allow you to go there. Because you would hurt yourself! Your body is smart; it knows that if it lets you drop down into the splits right now then there’s no way you’re getting back up.
Stretching increases range of motion not through a physical adaptation but through a neurological one. When we stretch we’re not training the muscle, we’re training the nervous system.
What’s the takeaway?
If you think that stretching means physically lengthening the muscle then it makes sense to stretch harder. If you pull harder, it’ll stretch more, right?
But now we understand that that’s not the case. In fact, aggressive stretching is actually counter-productive. Stretching aggressively into new ranges alarms the nervous system and causes it to tighten to protect itself.
So how SHOULD you stretch? And how do strength and flexibility relate to each other? Check the next articles in the series to find out.
Movement is Health,
Dr. Christian Barney D.C., D.A.B.C.O., C.C.S.P., ART
How can Performance Health & Wellness help you?
- Active Release Technique (ART) to the soft tissue structures to restore normal function, decrease stress to the injured area, reduce scar tissue, and promote healing;
- Stretching and Exercises to prevent condition from returning;
- Chiropractic adjustments to restore proper motion;
- Cold laser to help reduce inflammation;
- Kinesio taping to allow an athlete to continue to particpate in his sport plus augments the treatment.
- Functional medicine with extensive nutritional based consultation, individualized nutrition programs.