Stretching Basics – Why You Should Stretch, and How You Should Do It
What is a Stretch?
There are many types and styles of stretching out there and many reasons to do stretching but the basics of stretching are simple, as per the dictionary definition: “to draw out or extend (oneself, a body, limbs, wings, etc.) to the full length or extent”. Basically whether it fascia, scar tissue or muscle fibres a stretch is creating length in that structure and usually for the benefit of the body.
Length – Length in a body tissue is the one of the most obvious benefits to stretching, stretching reduces the tension in built up fascia, or shortened muscle fibres to let that structure relax.
Range of Motion – Range of motion is the other most obvious benefit of stretching, when muscles are stretched and lie looser your joints can move further and you are able to accomplish more with freer movement. Any scar tissue or fascia restriction affected by a stretch will be lengthened or broken down to give you more room to move and allow your muscles to support your joints unrestricted.
Blood Flow – Muscles are so strong that when they are tense and short they can cut off blood and nerve supply. The same thing can happen with fascia and scar tissue. A stretch will reduce the tension in these tissues and allow blood and nerve supply to return to normal.
Know what you’re stretching; which muscle, which motion will improve, what joints are you affecting. A stretch for the sake of just stretching may not actually bring you any lasting benefit and can be frustrating when goal setting if you’re “just stretching”.
For kids and young teens up to 15 years of age, even just a 15 second static stretch can be effective to lengthen a muscle. Older teens and into adults age 40-50 a stretch of 15-30 seconds is recommended to get a reaction. Lastly adults 50 years and older, stretches can take as long as 60 seconds to produce a lasting benefit.
In any stretch we are looking for a few things to judge whether or not the stretch worked. The most obvious is your range of motion in regards to the closest joint. For this reason a measurable stretch is best for setting goals because you can easily tell how much length you have gained by looking how far you can move. Second and a little harder to notice without practice is what we call a tissue release; basically when you start the stretch and it is uncomfortable the moment when that discomfort disperses is usually the tissue release. The tissue release is when the muscle fibres have let go of each other and given you some room.
Take the time. DO BOTH SIDES! Unless otherwise instructed by a health care practitioner you are working with it is always a good idea to make yourself even. I tell a lot of clients to “do the math”; two muscles, two sides of your body at 30 seconds a piece is Two Minutes out of your day. If you do that twice a day that is still only 4 minutes!!! That is a very short amount of time especially for folks who manage to find hours a day to surf their favorite social media platform. Stretching both sides also lets you know if you are even or not and if you need to focus more on one side.
Regular discipline in stretching is admittedly the hardest part to learn. I usually suggest two things for people to try; work stretching into your daily morning and evening routines or tie stretching to something you do often. 1 – Picking one or two muscles that when stretched will help lead you to your body goals and stretching them with breakfast or once you get out of bed is a great addition to your morning routine. Stretching this way will not only prepare you for your day, it will increase blood flow to help you wake up and train your body to be comfortable with the extra muscle length throughout your day. Stretching those muscles again right before bed will remove tension built up over the day to ease your sleep and as with stretching in the morning it will coax your body to retain that length while you sleep. 2 – Tying a stretch to a regular activity is also a good way to make it a habit. If you often get up for a cup of coffee each day, or answer the phone on a semi-regular basis. Anything throughout your day that you can tie an extra 30 seconds onto and using that activity as a reminder to stretch is an easy way to take care of yourself throughout the day.
The easiest way to get yourself to keep up with stretching (Keeping up with stretching is the most important part) is to make it a challenge and to set a goal for yourself. “I will get my heel to touch my butt”, “I will get my right shoulder to drop down to match my left”, “I will touch my toes within the week!” Whatever your personal challenge is, make it manageable, measurable and then work toward it 30 seconds at a time, Every Single Day
Barriers to Success
As always with something that is good for you there are things that get in the way of taking care of yourself. I will be the first to admit that stretching can be boring; in this fast paced world 30 seconds can feel like forever when you are just waiting for your muscles to respond. I find that is the reason I must use a Challenge to keep me on track. Stretching can be painful, either because of your particular situation, or occasionally because of a stretch being performed improperly. However, it does get easier the more you do it and there are many resources out there to help you stretch properly. Lastly; life is busy! We all have a lot going on and even a 4 minute change in your day can be a lot to work when you’re not thinking about it. Stretching can be easy to over look because “I can do that whenever” or “I just don’t have the energy right now”. Finding those few moments in your day can make all the difference though so it is definitely worth adding it to your schedule.
If you have questions, need help finding out what stretches are best for you, where to fit stretches into your life or even better; get someone to stretch for you give Isaac Stogryn, RMT a call and ask about our Stretching and Homecare sessions. Our RMTs will work one on one with you to build a simple plan that fits into your lifestyle and helps you reach your body goals; by helping you stretch, showing you the best stretches and fitting them into your schedule we can help you to where you want to be.
Isaac Stogryn is a graduate from Sir Sanford Fleming College’s Massage Therapy Program. He focuses on Swedish Therapeutic techniques using his skills in deep tissue massage and Fascial work paired with remedial exercises tailored to your lifestyle.