The following article is a small excerpt from one of my books. I hope you’ll want to learn more and let me help you to get into the best shape of your life.
Studies of the way we walk have revealed that muscle imbalances develop because the muscles of your lower body gradually shorten over time. These large muscles of your lower body will remain shortened for the rest of your life if proper stretching is not performed. Before I get into how to perform these proper stretches, it’s important to understand a few mechanical things about your body.
Tendons are the most inelastic connective tissue in your body, and they attach your muscles to your bones. All muscles have a tendon of origin, which is attached to the more stable bone and a tendon of insertion which is attached to the more moveable bone. Tendons are stronger than both the muscle and the bone covering that it attaches to. Tendons can be torn or ruptured if loaded beyond their strength but since they are very strong, what usually happens is the muscle tissue or the bone covering tears before the tendon. What all this really means is that tendons can not be stretched.
Your ligaments help to stabilize and reinforce your joints by connecting bone to bone. Your ligaments can take an enormous amount of force for a very brief time and if the force is not removed, the ligament will tear or rupture. If a ligament is damaged it usually takes between eight to twelve weeks for it to regain its strength. During that time your joint must be protected and supported by either taping it or using a brace. When your ligaments are put under stress by incorrect stretching, they will gradually elongate. As the ligament elongates it becomes weaker and is unable to properly bind the bones of the joint that it is suppose to support. If the ligament is continually put under stress by repetitive stretching beyond the ligaments tensile strength, it can become permanently elongated and can lead to chronic inflammation which may lead to arthritis.
When a muscle is working properly, it is expending energy by either shortening or elongating to produce motion across a joint or it’s maintaining its length by resisting the tension and holding your body in place. In reality nothing really stretches when stretching.
When a muscle group is placed under force, the muscle contracts and millions of myofilaments, shorten to respond to the loading force. The muscle is now using energy to resist this force. If the tension is held long enough, and the muscle is not overloaded, the muscle will eventually relax back to its original resting length. This happens by overlapping protein fibers sliding past their original resting length and will continue their sliding until there is no longer any tension on the muscle. Energy is stored in your muscles during this sliding process, giving your muscles more power.
You can now define strength as how large your muscle is, how much load it can hold and how much tension it can hold without tearing. If you want to increase your power, you can hopefully see how important stretching is. Since a muscle uses its greatest tension when its at its greatest length, it can therefore lift a greater load if it is pre-stretched from its resting length prior to receiving a loading force. The bottom line is you get strength by increasing you muscle mass by exercising and you get power by elongating your muscle fibres through stretching.
The danger when exercising without stretching is that the length of your individual muscle fibres become shortened by repetitive use and fatigue. Over time this muscle shortening may cause imbalances that can lead to ligament damage, joint hyper mobility and loss of function and power. Stretching helps to prevent this shortening of your muscle fibres and helps to prevent injuries.
Before you start any stretching routine you should perform a gentle set of warm ups. Warm ups are not stretches, they are usually a gentle repetitive motion that increases blood flow and warms your muscles. Ideal warm ups would be walking, cycling, treadmill, rowing and stair climbing. Running slowly and skipping rope are generally not good warm up exercises and may lead to injuries.
For an example, a person walking normally and weighing 63 kg. (140 pounds) will hit the ground with their body weight plus 20 percent or 75 kg. (168 pounds) per square inch of impact force. The same person running well, but not sprinting and not jogging will land with an impact force of about three times that of their walking force or in this case 225 kg. (504 pounds) per square inch of impact force. When a person jogs slowly they reduce the body’s ability to handle impact and at the same time has increased the amount of weight bearing impact it has to handle. Jogging slowly has a loading force of about four times that of walking or in this case 300 kg. (672 pounds) per square inch of loading force. A training error is running slowly to warm up. Overtime it will create degenerative changes to your knee, pelvis and spine.
Stretches should be simple and be able to be performed by you without the aid of a partner. The stretch must also isolate only one major muscle or muscle group and be in a position where it is not expending energy to maintain its position. A good example of this would be the ‘runner’s stretch’ this is really not a stretch because the hip flexors are contracted, working and expending energy in order to stabilize your trunk as you lower and raise your body. A proper stretch should also not load other structures such as ligaments or joint capsules. Any stretch that places an abnormal stress on the ligament will slowly cause permanent damage. An example of this would be the hurdlers stretch. In stretching the hamstrings of one leg, the ligaments of the opposite knee are placed under abnormal stress.
When stretching, if you load the muscle harder it will serve no purpose except that it will take longer for it to relax back to its original resting length and also there is a higher risk of injury due to over stretching. Stretches also cannot be timed. The tension must be gentle, steady and constant so as to allow the muscle fibers to relax and slide past their current resting length. The time it takes to relax back to its original length will vary from person to person and from day to day. You have to listen to your body and hold the position until the tension in your muscle is gone.
You should stretch immediately before a skill level activity or sporting event to best take advantage of the increased power in your muscle. If you stretch a half-hour before an event, the muscle will contract back to its original resting length and the stored energy will dissipate as heat and the energy that was stored by stretching will have been wasted.
In the book ‘Get Fit Stay Fit’ it will describe and show you how to properly perform stretches. The problem won’t be in your ability to perform these stretches but to adopt a new approach to stretching and improving your flexibility. The more flexible a joint is, the greater its ability to move through a complete range of motion and function more efficiently and resulting in an increase in physical performance.
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