The Truth About Flexibility And Why You Are Likely Wasting Your Efforts Part 4
By Erik Strouse, MS
VIDA Fitness Trainer
VIDA Fitness Members! Welcome back for the second to last rendition of “The Truth About Flexibility And Why You Are Likely Wasting Your Efforts.” I hope thus far I have been able to highlight some key points as to why Flexibility Training is not as simple as Static Stretching. I have talked about why the body actually tightens up, Self-Myofascial Release, and Dynamic Flexibility.
In my first article I made the point that Static Stretching as a standalone effort to improve range of motion simply is not effective. It is, however, incredibly important in your efforts to continuously improve your overall flexibility. Static Stretching is very well documented to increase muscle length and Range Of Motion (ROM) around the joint. In order for this kind of flexibility training to be effective, just holding a stretch is not going to guarantee improvement in ROM. There are a few things that you have to do to ensure you receive the desired effect.
When a muscle is stretched, there are sensors called proprioceptors within the muscle that cause it to tense up to ensure it is not harmed. So in other words, that muscle actually contracts when you first immediately apply tension, and thus does not truly lengthen to be stretched. To ensure that you get that muscle tissue to lengthen, you have to “defeat” the proprioceptors to allow the muscle tissue to relax. There are several ways you can do this.
The first method is known as Passive Stretching, and it means you simply hold the stretch at the same length for a specific amount of time, usually 20-40 seconds. This does not guarantee the muscle will relax and lengthen, and therefore may not truly help you increase your ROM. If applying this method, you may have to teach yourself how to relax the muscle to cause the desired lengthening. The second method is known as Active Stretching. When using this method, you purposely contract the opposing muscle of the one you are trying to stretch. Through a process called “Reciprocal Inhibition,” when you contract a muscle, the opposing muscle relaxes, and thus when being stretched, defeats the proprioceptor response. So, put simply, you will be able to lengthen the muscle you are trying to stretch almost immediately. To give you an example of an Active Stretch, lets say you are targeting your calf muscle. For an easy mental picture, you are stretching it by standing on a stair with your toes on the edge and heels dipping below the surface. When doing this, you then pull your toes up toward your chin to engage your shin muscles. This will then relax your calf muscles, thus dropping the heels even lower than if just letting gravity pull them downward, to allow a greater stretch.
The last article talked about Dynamic Stretching and how this is essential to perform because our bodies move in three dimensions. Static stretching can also target multiple dimensions, but only by stretching the same muscle at different angles. To continue with the calf stretch on the stairs, you would simply stand in a normal stance for one angle on the calf muscle, then turn your feet 45 degrees and let the heels drop for another angle. You would repeat this on both sides, and should feel different stresses on the muscle each way you stand. Not all muscles can easily be targeted this way, so this method does have limitations. Yoga is actually a great way to target the same muscles at different angles given the wide variety of poses you practice. VIDA’s yoga classes have several formats to find a style and variety that works best for your taste. Please note, though, that some yoga poses could cause injury. Much like any workout program, please do not rush into the more advanced classes. Flexibility TAKES TIME, and A LOT OF IT. Start simple, and over several months, start progressing to harder classes.
So as a quick recap of the steps to improving flexibility, step #1 is Self Myofascial Release, step #2 is Dynamic Flexibility, and now step #3 is Static Stretching. Next month, I will talk about the 4th and final step to the process! Thanks for tuning in, and as usual, don’t hesitate to contact me with questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.