Before I get into the post, I will preface this as being a post which everyone can benefit from; competitive athletes, non-competing athletes, new trainees, and experienced trainees. In the future some posts will be more targeted to a specific demographic because I have a couple client profiles depending on the program, but this one is for everyone!
So today, I’ll provide 2 take-home tips to get more out of your stretching. (Which for most is needed…a lot)
Tip 1: Relax/No breath holding
As you hold the stretch, breathe deep and controlled. Into the belly, not the chest. If you’re doing it right, you will see your midsection expand as you inhale. If your midsection expands as you exhale, you are breathing into your chest. That’s the litmus test to use on yourself.
Now the science talk: Flexibility limitations can be from tissue shortness (muscle, fascia) or from neural tension. Neural tension means a muscle that appears short, can have this symptom as a result of the nervous system limiting its range of motion to protect it and/or a joint from injury. Deep, controlled breathing will affect this high tension signal, while holding the stretch will affect muscle length. Don’t just use one approach.
Tip 2: Get uncomfortable…slightly
If a stretch feels too uncomfortable (extreme is another good word), you will hold your breath, which defeats the last tip, so go to where discomfort is felt, just not too much. I can’t say where that is, you have to feel it.
Stretching can be comfortable or uncomfortable just based on body position as well, so check yourself out. For example, a common stretch is a standing hamstring stretch where one leg is propped up on a surface while the other leg supports the body on the ground. The common position is for this support leg to be turned toe out. This is more comfortable. Its also disregarding the hips as a contributor to this stretch’s effectiveness (this has to do with “3D” function of the hamstrings….they don’t only bend the knee and extend the hip). So keep the stance-leg toe turned slightly in. It will be more uncomfortable, however you will be stretching properly.
Try these out, and please leave a comment if you have any more questions about it. Enjoy learning and working with your body, it is a neverending process. Until next time relax and breathe when you stretch, and don’t be so fond of how the stretch actually feels.