Are you still performing the same old-school stretches? Get ready to upgrade to the principles of stretching used by professional athletes, and those outlined in the bible of stretching, Stretch to Win by Ann and Chris Fredrick. Outdated stretching routines typically consist of holding the familiar positions at the same intensity and for the same duration day in and day out, regardless of the sport or if it is pre- or post-game. Even worse, a program may entail many repetitions of quick, jerky stretches (often with the aid of a band or rope) that are supposed to warm up the muscles right before practice or a tournament. In both cases, the athletes are likely to be worse off than they would have been if they had not stretched at all.
Technique and positioning in a stretching program is just as important for optimal performance as what an athlete does for a strength and conditioning program. Which leads us to the first rule of stretching… synchronize breathing and movement.
The old way of stretching advocated holding one position, and then counting 10, 30 or 60 seconds to completion. Often, in an attempt to hold the position while feeling a good stretch, our athletes would actually end up holding their breath and contracting the very muscles they wanted to stretch. They were inadvertently working against themselves, and then asking us, “Why don’t I see results even though I stretch?”
In order to make gains, we want to work with the body, and our own basic physiology. Holding your breath actually tells the body to “freeze.” Alternatively, the mechanical act of inhaling and exhaling sends a chemical message to the muscles to “let go.”
When athletes focus on how they are breathing during a stretch, they get an optimal response from the stretch as well as an increased awareness of their bodies. They realize that their muscles and tissues have their own biological time clock for responding to a stretch that does not follow some prescribed formula or arbitrary time limit. The breath actually assists the stretching movements by easing rather than forcing the tissues into increasing ranges of motion. Not only will you feel more comfortable when you are stretching, but you will finally get the results you have been after! Just try this…
1) Position yourself in a stretch of your choice to a comfortable degree of mild to moderate intensity.
2) Stay focused on relaxing all of your muscles, especially the ones you are going to stretch.
3) Inhale, and allow your body to naturally back off of the stretch.
4) Exhale slowly and completely, and fall into the stretch. Go to a point of mild to moderate intensity.
5) Be mindful of the tension in the tissues and allow them to lengthen as you exhale.
6) Repeat until you feel that the tissues have released.
Stretching in the above manner employs the first rule of stretching – synchronize breathing and movement. However, there are nine more principles to learn! Stay tuned for more ways to improve your self stretching, or better yet, come see us and let us do the work for you! Happy stretching!