No matter how much your mind leans towards thinking that stretching is necessary, the reality is, it just isn’t capable of doing much in the way of preventing an injury or improving performance.
But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stretch. What’s more important is, how and when you choose to stretch.
And if we’re being honest, do you possess the body awareness and maturity to know how far you should push or pull a body part in a certain direction?
Not too long ago, I called upon a student that had her hand raised in my kinesiolgy class. The question that followed went something like this: “When I work on clients in the massage therapy clinic, I often come across muscles that feel tight. If you’re saying that they’re not tight, how would you explain what I think I’m feeling?”
Before I tell you how I responded to my student’s question, I’ll first tell you what I have told many personal trainers, massage therapists, physical therapists and chiropractors at ESPN, world-class destination spas, gyms in other countries, and fitness facilities in the United States over the last 15 years; if stretching is doing anything at all, it’s more than likely putting your muscles at more risk to not perform to the best of their ability.
If putting your muscles at more risk to not perform to the best of their ability isn’t reason enough for you to avoid stretching, learning that it’s only addressing the symptom should be enough to get you there.
Similarly if addressing the symptom is not enough of a reason for you to spend your time in more productive ways, I’m hoping that it will be enough to nudge you in a direction that encourages you to ask a different question. A better question. When I say better, I mean a question that has the momentum to move you in a different direction.
Up until this point in time, what has your experience with stretching been like?
Other than feeling like you have more range of motion in the short-term, it’s not a stretch to say that the professional that continues to do the same thing over-and-over again has no accurate way to measure how your muscles responded to those stretches.
And if they don’t have an accurate way of measuring for an outcome, at least not one that is based on sound principles, how are you supposed to know how you’re benefiting from those stretches that the professional recommended to you?
Truth be told, the ongoing challenge for you is, you just don’t know what you don’t know.
And how can you?
One thing you do know and something that should be called into question is, why is the professional recommending a stretch that you could read in a magazine any month out of the year?
Relying on the internet to give you accurate information on stretching is only going to drive you farther down the rabbit hole.
These stories on stretching run very deep. They’re designed to persuade you into buying more magazines, books, and believe it or not, the one size fits all protocol model that’s often part of the thought process in physical therapy and chiropractic.
Consequently, the word stretching sounds a lot better than, Let’s apply an outside force to your muscles.
As a result, you won’t see a fitness or running magazine where the cover reads, The 5 Best Ways to Apply an Outside Force to Your Lower Back Muscles.
Plug the word *stretch* into that same headline on the cover of any one of those magazines, combined with an image that is designed to speak to your senses, and all of a sudden, the overall message on stretching has a more persuasive ring to it.
If you have found stretching to be a pleasurable experience in the past, just looking at all of the sensory input that the cover of a magazine is putting off will be enough to light up an entire area of your brain. It’s an area of your brain that you don’t have first-hand knowledge of. All of this is going on behind the scenes. Without any conscious thought on your part.
That is the obstacle (affiliate).
We see the world, and our work, through countless lenses and assumptions and habit–fixed ways of thinking, seeing and acting, of which we’re usually unconscious.
– Oliver Burkeman
If stretching is so effective, why do you have to keep scratching the same itch?
Although you might not have described stretching as applying an outside force in the form of a push or a pull that’s applied to a body part that has muscles attaching to it, like it or not, that’s what is happening.
Said another way, in order for you to feel the tug that you describe as a stretch, there has to be an outside force to go right along with it. Otherwise, there’s no sensation to go along with the stretch.
If it’s not in the form of a push, it’s going to be applied in the way of a pull. That when applied, does nothing to improve your ability to move with more efficiency.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is where how and when you decide to stretch comes into play.
Because going forward, you’ll want to be able to move with more efficiency.
How about foam rolling?
Much like stretching, by rolling out your muscles with a foam roller, or even more to the point, a lacrosse ball, you have to continue addressing those areas that feel tight.
What comes next?
Most likely a golf ball. For even more precision. But even then, you’ll be back to the drawing board the next day.
Do you see the vicious cycle?
The tight muscles are the symptom.
At some point in your quest for better function, you might have walked away from a treatment table feeling like you had more range of motion from which to work with.
But it didn’t last long. (emphasis added)
Back to my kinesiolgy student’s question: “When I work on clients in the massage therapy clinic, I often come across muscles that feel tight. If you’re saying that they’re not tight, how would you explain what I think I’m feeling?”
Here’s how I answered her question: With many more hours of hands-on practice palpating muscles, I could be addressing the same muscles on your clients, and the thought that a muscle is tight never crosses my mind.
@PaulLArgent People have been led 2 believe that when a muscle feels tight – it’s bad. That sensation is a natural response. So be thankful!
— Rick Merriam (@rickmerriam) December 12, 2016
[ Sidebar: Having been a licensed massage therapist for over 20 years, I can tell you from experience that going by feel by itself is not a good idea. ]
When it comes right down to it, going by feel is a guess as to what’s going on with a particular muscle in question.
Now, a whole different area of your brain is lighting up.
If you found this post on stretching to be educational, and you feel like somebody you know could benefit from the information that I provided here, I would greatly appreciate you sharing it. You can do this by emailing it to a friend, family member, colleague or feel free to share it on Facebook.
A BIG thanks in advance. 🙂
— Rick Merriam (@rickmerriam) December 24, 2016
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Books mentioned (affiliate):
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