Stretching & Flexibility Facts and Fiction

Posted in Physical Health.

Myth: Stretching reduces the risk of injury

Fact: In early 2004, the US Centers for Disease Control released a report which analyzed over 350 studies arouond the globe The report’s bottom line: Stretching has not been proven to lower the risk of injury during activity and may even increase your chances of winding up on the sidelines.

So if not stretching, what is the new thinking
Properly designed and executed dynamic warm-ups increase your core body temperature, raise your heart rate, and allow your muscles and joints to move through 3 planes of motion. A general dynamic warm-up can include walking lunges, rotational patterns, pushups, and a side-shuffle.  Do a 5-10 minutes of these and you’ll be ready to take on the world  
Myth: The more flexible you are, the better.
Fact: Your body knows when it has been pushed past its limit,even if you do not want to listen. While tightness may limit your stride length and decrease your ability to touch your toes, these inconvenient limitations are your body’s way of maintaining joint stability.  Stretching takes away this protective mechanism without directly addressing the cause of the problem (often a weakness of the neuromuscular system).  Whether on the sports field, in the gym or walking through your home, flexibility without control is an accident waiting to happen.
What can I do to offset these limitations?
When a muscle shortens, your nervous system sends a signal to the opposing muscles to lengthen and allow the movement to happen smoothly. This is a concept called the Law of Reciprocal Inhibition.  If the contracting muscle(s) loses the ability to contract properly, the opposing muscles which should relax never get the proper signal. They do not allow the movement to happen and you may sense tightness.  So, tightness is actually a sign of weakness.
What is the solution?
Improve the ability of the weak muscle to contract.  When you have the capacity to produce and control forces, your body will give you as much range of motion as you need.  Or more simply, strength equals length. 
For years , many in the personal training community have already realized that by strengthening the weakest positions of movement isometrically, you can quickly gain 15 degrees (or more!) of useable range of motion in as little as one session!

Stretching does feel good, if not downright invigorating. If you have been cramped up in a car or airplane seat for hours, you definitely want to get your body feeling limber quickly and I highly recommend a systematized progression of regaining your flexibility. If you enjoy the way stretching feels and you understand its limitations, by all means, keep it as part of your overall exercise program. But more importantly, stay strong!

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