What the Stretch!

I don't know about you, but when I was young and more athletic, I only stretched when my coach ordered it.  At the time, I was very flexible and in great shape.  I mean, at the time, my dad could hold onto my waist and I could flip backwards and place my head in between my feet.  I was really flexible!

At the time and frankly, for many years, I was so flexible that yoga was boring - I wasn't challenged by any of the poses.

Since then, life has happened and I've lost my athletic edge.  And the last time I went to a yoga session, it was very challenging!

What I needed to do was to stretch.  What I continue to need to do is stretch.

Early in my studies of massage and body work, Bob Anderson was one of the stretching gurus - all at a time when yoga had not reached the popularity that it currently enjoys.

In the 1980 version of his book, Stretching, Bob's view of stretching sounds almost yogic,

Stretching relaxes your mind and tunes up your body...and helps prevent injuries such as muscle strains.  "A strong, pre-stretched muscle resists stress better than a strong, un-stretched muscle."

The 30th Anniversary version of Stretching is available at Amazon.com.

Through my orthopedic massage studies with Erik Dalton, I learned a unique and important new concept - muscles have to relax and stretch in order to optimally re-access energy.

I had never considered muscle activity in that context. Muscles contract to work, I knew. But, somehow I hadn't considered or even thought about the other side of the equation - Imagine that the muscles needed to refresh and re-source their energy reserves! It made so much sense once Dr. Dalton presented the idea, but somehow I'd missed that vital bit of information!

As we age, we tend to lose flexibility - particularly if we don't keep up with exercise and the practice of stretching.  In my opinion, our loss of flexibility is tied to:

  • Our tendency to dehydration - more times than not, we don't drink enough water
  • Our habit of lack of exercise and stretching

The Good News - the body loves to move and regains mobility and flexibility readily. I've also learned that muscles reset even faster as we engage both the mind and the body through a 5 - 2 - 2 muscle energy sequence.

Support for a mind-body approach that recognizes the vital role of the nervous system is also supported by Todd Hargrove as cited in A Guide to Better Movement: The Science and Practice of Moving with More Skill and Less Pain.   According to Todd, as inspired by Weppler & Magnusson:

"The length of our soft tissues is also not easy to change. Although we might imagine we are lengthening muscle by stretching, it is more likely that increased range of motion is caused by changes in the nervous system’s tolerance to stretch, rather than actual length changes in muscles."

So the 5 - 2 - 2 muscle energy sequence involves:

  • 5 seconds of resistance, followed by
  • 2 seconds of zen - or moments of relaxation, followed by a
  • 2 second stretch

The 5-2-2 sequence creates "an error" which essentially re-opens communication between the brain and the muscles so that they can "solve the problem" of reduced mobility.

Based on Dr. Erik Dalton's research, the addition of resistance takes stretching beyond a mere nervous system exercise because it activates

  • gamma motor neurons and
  • spindle cells

which in turn reset muscle length and tension.

I believe that the 5-2-2 sequence also activates the ACC in the brain. The ACC is a bridge between the lower part of the brain and it's strong connectivity to the body and the upper part of the brain that is all about:

  • Re-appraising a situation
  • Recognizing the options
  • Forming a preference
  • Making a choice
  • Setting a plan in place
  • Executing the plan

So now to the task of stretching. One the most renowned experts in the industry is Aaron Mattes. According to Aaron, in his book, Specific Stretching For Everyone:

"Stretching should be a painless process to help improve the quality of life.  Traditionally stretching has been a series of exercises that are held for a prolonged period of time without adequate physiological considerations such as improving circulation, increasing oxygen to the tissues, eliminating the waste products by improved function of the lymph glands and improved nutritional deliverance to the cells.  

Proper stretching aids in maintaining the body processes and if performed consistently will contribute to a healthier body, increased longevity and helping retain one's independence."

Aaron Mattes advocates for 2 - 3 second stretches, rather than 30 - 60 second stretches, which he has found, actually do more damage to the muscles.

I also completely appreciate a Donovan McNabb quote, as cited by Ann Frederick in her book, Stretch to Win:

"We have discovered over the years that instead of counting how long to hold a stretch, athletes can stretch better by synchronizing their breathing with their movement. Counting puts an arbitrary time constraint on the stretch that competes with the actual release of the restricted tissues. Our experience has shown repeatedly that if the athletes instead 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."

Have Fun Breathing and Stretching to Regain Flexibility and Mobility!
The Mind Body Whisperer 
- Dedicated to Helping You Get Optimized for Your Favorite Sport and Pain-Free Living!

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