You’ve all seen it, most of you have done it. Many of you have been told to do it. We see it all the time at Willow Bend Fitness Club. It’s called stretching. The question is: Is it good for you?
Before we can answer that question, we must ask another question: Why do people stretch? Some of us stretch because we love the feeling we get while stretching, or we feel relaxed, or we were just told it’s good for us. One of the main reasons is to increase flexibility. Flexibility is considered as an indicator of how healthy we are in our joints. Healthy joints equal better quality of life, because the less we are able to move, the more likely we are to be in pain.
So, this begs the question: Why do people avoid stretching? Many of you have noticed that you feel more loose after stretching, but soon afterward, you don’t feel very good any more. Others have noticed that they don’t like the feeling they get when they lean over to touch their toes. So, how do some people like the burning feeling down the back of their legs, and the others do not? The answer is, we cannot always place all of our decisions based only on how we are feeling. The sensations we feel are not always a good indicator of how good or bad something is for us.
So…. is stretching good for you? The answer is yes and no! Stretching definitely has a place, but there are a few things we need to know to answer the question for each individual. The reason the answer is not a simple yes or no is because every individual is different. Every person has different levels of ability to tolerate physical stress. Believe it or not, stretching is actually a very intense activity to our muscles that should be progressed slowly.
What is considered a stress? The answer is anything and everything! That is why some people can tolerate tons of physical, emotional, chemical, and nutritional stress with no side effects, while others can’t even think about doing a group fitness class without serious side effects from pain and soreness to headaches and nausea. Welcome to Earth!
How do I know if I might be at risk to negative side effects to stretching? Each individual’s health history is a good indicator. Some of the things to look for in your own history are multiple surgeries, multiple medications, lots of injuries, multiple current complaints, and multiple childbirths, to name a few. Another good indicator is if you still have the same chronic complaints or have more or increased pain after commencing a stretching program.
So, if I am considered sensitive to stretching, are there stretches I can do? Yes. One of the safest ways to start a stretching program is to start with active stretching. What is active stretching? Well, when someone leans over to touch their toes to stretch their hamstrings, it is considered passive stretching because gravity is helping them get into the position. The active stretch example for the hamstrings would be to lie down on your back and try to raise your leg off the ground while maintaining your low back posture. This is considered an active stretch because your muscles are creating the motion, where in the other example, gravity is creating the stretch.
How do I know which stretches are active and passive? The easiest way to know that is to ask one of our trainers or instructors here at Muscle Activation Fitness. We have put in 25 combined years of learning Biomechanics (how your body moves in relation to physics) and Muscle Physiology (what is happening to the inside of your body as you move). The other way to know is to ask yourself, while doing the stretch, are my muscles the only thing creating the stretch, or is there something besides my muscles like gravity or rope creating the motion?
At Muscle Activation Fitness, we communicate to our clients that when one muscle is contracting or shortening, another muscle has to lengthen or stretch. It may not feel quite as severe or satisfactory at the end of it, but it requires the least stress to be placed on your body.
How else can I find out if I can do some passive and active stretches? The best way to find that out is to have someone look at your flexibility and strength before and after each stretch to see if either your flexibility or strength decreased after your stretch. That way, you know for sure which stretches you should and should not do, and see if you have progressed yourself enough to try new stretches.
We have several clients who suffered more and more as they stretched. Only when we started to strengthen their bodies in the correct places did we see improvement overall. This happened when they stopped stretching! Come see us at Muscle Activation to figure out how your body can adapt, get stronger, and be more flexible without passively stretching one muscle.