Stretching is an activity that eludes most of us. Even if we are active runners, walkers, or weight lifters. When I ask my patients , “Do you stretch?” most look away and mumble. Stretching is something we all want to do and know it is good for us, yet somehow drop it from our exercise routines.
Stretching is a fundamental component of maintaining your overall wellness and not only increases your flexibility and range of motion, but it will also improve your performance in workouts and all physical activity. It's also one of the most important components in preventing and rehabilitating an injury. I was in chiropractic practice for 20 years and one of my primary goals was to improve mobility and range of motion.
When done correctly, stretching can be an important part of you health and wellness routine. However, stretching mistakes are very common and improper technique can lead to injury and pain.
#1) Not warming up
You may think of stretching as a warm-up before physical activity, but you actually need to warm up BEFORE you stretch. A pre-stretching warm-up will increase your body’s core temperature to make muscles more pliable and generate blood flow to the muscles and connective tissue. Your warm-up should consist of light activity – like a brisk walk or jogging in place. This will prepare your muscles to be stretched and for more intense exercise to follow. The goal of your warm-up is to raise your heart rate and respiratory rate enough to increase blood flow. This activity will loosen the muscles, increasing the benefits of stretching and helping you avoid injury that can be caused by a cold stretch.
#2) Using improper stretching techniques
Another mistake many make when stretching is doing the wrong type of stretch. There are multiple styles of stretching that target different goals. When most people hear the word “stretch,” they think about holding a stretching position for a prolonged period of time, most often recommended is 20-30 seconds. This is called static stretching. The problem with static stretching is that if a muscle is stretched too far, too fast, or for too long, it elicits a protective action known as the myotatic reflex, causing it to automatically recoil in an attempt to prevent the muscle from tearing. This occurs about three seconds into a stretch. Therefore, I recommend stretching to your natural range of motion (hold for 2 seconds), before the negative stretch reflex kicks in, then return to the start position and repeat 10 times. This type of stretching is called Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) . Read further to find more details about AIS.
#3) Overstretching your muscles
Stretching should never be painful. Going too deep into a stretch can result in injury. Slowly ease into your stretches. You may feel slightly uncomfortable during a stretch, but it should never hurt. Don’t push your body past its limits, and always stay in your natural range of motion. If you notice tightness in one muscle area, repeat your stretches multiple times without pushing too hard.
#4) Not stretching often enough or being inconsistent
Stretching is one of those things you want to maintain regularly in order to get the most benefit. If you aren't consistent, you won’t benefit in the long run. Stretching is important for everyone! The goal of stretching for the average person is to maintain flexibility and mobility in your joints and muscles. Inflexibility can cause your muscles to shorten, thereby limiting movement patterns can later lead to other issues such as back pain, neck pain, and shoulder restrictions. For athletes, proper stretching is essential to preventing injuries and performing at your highest level.
#5) Holding your breath while stretching
Intentionally incorporating breathing while you stretch helps you get the most out of each stretch you perform. It helps to relax the muscles and prepare your body to move into and hold the stretch. By focusing on your breath, it reduces the risk that you may hold your breath as you are stretching.
Many people unintentionally hold their breath while stretching, which can cause muscles to become tense and resistant. Conversely, breathing increases blood flow and delivers oxygen to the muscles. By breathing deeply and slowly through the nose while stretching, your muscles are more likely to relax and become receptive to the stretch.
#6) Stretching an injured muscle
Contrary to popular belief, stretching an injured muscle will not help with pain and can prolong the healing process. Injured tissues need time in order to heal. Rest the injury, and apply heat or ice as needed to aid with recovery. Once your injury has healed, slowly re-introduce active isolated stretching of the muscle group back into your routine.
What Is The Best Way To Stretch
Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is one of the methods of stretching most used by today's athletes, chiropractors, physical therapists and personal/athletic trainers. Active Isolated Stretching (AIS) is a technique that helps people maximize the effectiveness of stretching without causing the sort of discomfort that keeps a lot of us away from it. AIS technique involves the method of holding each stretch for only two seconds. This method of stretching is also known to work with the body's natural physiological makeup to improve circulation and increase the elasticity of muscles, joints, and fascia without triggering the negative reaction of the stretch reflex as in static stretching (holding a stretch for 20-30 seconds)
1. Isolate the Muscle to Stretch
If you didn’t already know, muscles often work in opposition. If you want to isolate a muscle, you need to do the opposite for the other muscle. For example, when you ex your quadricep (thigh muscle), you stretch your hamstring and vice versa. So you need to “ex” one muscle in order to stretch another. Then, the brain sends a signal to the hamstrings to relax. This provides a perfect environment for the hamstring to stretch.
2. Only Hold the Stretch for Two Seconds
Flex the opposing muscle to stretch the muscle you are isolating. But don’t hold it for a minute like static stretching! Instead, only hold the position for two seconds and perform 10 Repetitions. Simply repeat this process until you have done about 10 reps. Breathing is also important, so exhale during the stretching portion of each rep. This allows oxygen to pump through the body and increase circulation.
What is the purpose for repeating each stretch?
Repeat each stretch 10 times in order to increase the circulation of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the muscles being stretched. This technique will help you gain the most flexibility per session. Remember, the more nutrition a muscle can obtain and the more toxins a muscle can release, the faster the muscle can recover.
Hold for two seconds. How does that help?
Each stretch is held for a maximum of two seconds in order to avoid the activation of the stretch. The stretch reflex (also called the myotatic reflex) prevents a muscle or tendon from overstretching too far or too fast. This is our body's natural protection against strains, sprains, and tears. By holding short-term stretches, we increase our range of motion with each repetition and eliminate any fear of pain.
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Best of Health,
Hi, I'm Dr. Angela Walk...
I have been involved in the health and wellness industry for over 20 years as a health & wellness physician. I have written extensively for health publications and I am keenly aware of trends and new developments in natural health. I embrace an active lifestyle combining diet, exercise and healthy choices. My goal is to inform my readers of natural options available to them in hopes of improving their health and quality of life.