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Stretching Beyond Your Limits

Traditional wisdom suggests that if your muscles feel tight, you should stretch them to feel looser. Right?!

Traditional wisdom suggests that if your muscles feel tight, you should stretch them to feel looser. Right?!

Or... is it... Does this actually work?

There are several things to consider here.

Firstly, are your muscles tight and need lengthening, or do they FEEL tight? A long stretched out muscle will feel tight because it is already at length. It is actually really trying to get your posture back to a more optimal place. And failing to do so, because it is weakened by the stretch.

Stretching such a muscle is not a good idea.

The opposite is true - such a muscle needs loading to shorten and strengthen it so that it can optimise. Then it won't need to keep telling your body that something needs to change. As this is what it is currently doing.

Secondly, there is a difference between a muscle that feels tight, and a nerve that has tension in it. Stretching techniques will be different here.

Here is where nerve glides can be extremely useful. Sciatic and femoral nerve glides, for instance, can be really helpful for someone suffering leg pain due to a herniated disc.

Thirdly, there is also the actual approach to stretching. If, legitimately, a muscle seems like a good candidate for stretching, very often we can over-stretch beyond this muscle's current optimal length.

Immediately, a response is sent to the muscle to contract to protect itself. It is not possible to control this response - it comes from the spine. It is called a myotatic reflex.

You will see this response in action when a doctor taps under your knee cap with a little hammer - normally, the leg jerks upwards. It's the same response, as the tendon is briefly over-stretched, so the quad muscle contracts in response.

It is very easy to be over-eager when doing a fitness routine in a rush and to over-stretch a muscle. But the results will be counter-productive. You won't gain muscle length by continuously over-stretching.

Finally, and this is of key importance here... consider why the muscle is tight in the first place.

The body does not just give you tight muscles. It is a neurological response coming from the brain. The body decides that it is far better and SAFER for your body to shorten the muscle than to let it to go length.

For example, it might remember the past experience of bending too low to lift something in poor form, and the spine could not manage the load very well. So going forwards, the body locks up the hamstrings so that you cannot bend forward quite so easily.

Deal with the underlying matter and the hamstrings and calves will lengthen. Increase the positive inputs into the body and brain to allow it to let go.


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