Welcome to the first, in a series Stretching Tips! You all know how big I am with stretching and breathing… My first Z – Gram of the year is going to educate a lot of you… and remind other to keep up the good work.
We will focus on the very first step in any workout program: Knowing Your Limits. Your workout should be a pleasurable part of your day, whether it’s the first thing in the morning or the last thing in the evening. Although you might experience some soreness during or after a workout, it should not be the type of pain that interferes with the way you function. The same goes for stretching. If you stretch properly before and after a session in the gym, you will decrease your chances of serious injury and avoid soreness and pain. It doesn’t hurt to keep yourself on track with your “Z’assages” either…
This is where knowing your limits come into play. Stretching is not an activity meant to cause pain: Its whole purpose is to avoid pain. When you stretch, you might feel a little discomfort or mild tension as you work out some of the stiffness, but if you feel any pain beyond that, you have gone too far.
When you stretch the muscles and tendons to the point of pain, the body employs a defense mechanism called the stretch reflex. This is the body’s safety measure to prevent serious damage from occurring to the muscles and tendons. The stretch reflex protects the muscles and tendons by contracting them, thereby preventing them from being stretched beyond their limits. If you try to force your body beyond this fail-safe point, you run the risk damaging muscle tissues, tendons or ligaments.
The diagram above shows how nerve impulses triggered by the
stretch reflex travel between the spinal column and the muscles.
What to Avoid When Stretching
Many people have never learnt how to stretch properly. Maybe you have done this yourself: You watch other people stretching in the gym and try to imitate what you see. But who is to say that the person you are watching is doing it right? Here are some of the most common mistakes made while stretching:
- Bouncing. Many people have the mistaken impression that they should bounce to get a good stretch. Bouncing will not help you and could do more damage as you try to push too far beyond the stretch reflex. Every move you make should be smooth and gentle. Lean into the stretch gradually, push to the point of mild tension and hold for a few seconds. Each time you will be able to go a little further, but do not force it.
- Not Holding the Stretch Long Enough... If you do not hold the stretch long enough, you may fall into the habit of bouncing or rushing through your stretch workout. Hold your stretch position for at least 15 to 20 seconds before moving back to your original position.
- Stretching Too Hard. Stretching takes patience and finesse. Each move needs to be fluid and gentle. Do not throw your body into a stretch or try to rush through your stretching routine. Take your time and relax.
- Forgetting Form and Function. Think about your sport or activity. Which muscles will you be using? A stretching routine for a marathon run will be very different from a routine for an hour of lifting weights. Pay attention to the muscles you will need to use in your program and make sure your form for each stretch is attained properly. Consider the range of motion you will be putting that particular muscle through. The whole point of stretching is getting your muscles accustomed to moving through a specific range of motion, so if the muscle is not used to going that far, you may end up with an injury.
So, to avoid the stretch reflex and potential damage to your muscles and joints, avoid pain. Never push yourself beyond what is comfortable. Only stretch to the point where you can feel tension in your muscles. This way, you will avoid injury and get the maximum benefits from your stretching.
Stretching is one of the most underutilized techniques for improving athletic performance, preventing sports injury and properly rehabilitating soft tissue injuries. Do not make the mistake of thinking that something as simple as stretching will not be effective. Take your time with your stretching routine, and later on you will be grateful you did.
“Good Stretch vs Bad Stretch” – how to decide yourself and how to identify, good stretches and bad stretches contact me at or if you have a sport you would like me to send you a stretch routine, just email me…