I am a nag about people’s daily stretching routine. More times than not I learn that people have good intentions to include stretching in their day but “don’t get around to it.” We are all guilty of this! But why is stretching so important? There is a science to it.
What Exactly Does Stretching Do?
Stretching your muscles on a regular basis can improve the range of motion and flexibility. Keeping muscles at a proper length takes unnecessary tension off tendons, which lessens damage and helps recover from injury. Stretching also allows for more muscle tone; muscle will be larger in volume without becoming bulky.
Stretching allows the body’s muscles to gently loosen. Increased flexibility of the neck, shoulders, and upper back improve respiratory function. Keeping upper and lower legs as well as the glutes stretched prevents plantar fasciitis and loose fluid movement in the lower back.
Without stretching, the body becomes stiff and tight. Stretching helps to push fluids and oxygenated blood throughout the entire body, increasing range of motion and improving posture. Remember, stretching is not relaxation (although that is a natural side effect); stretching is elongation!
Even if you do not have a regular exercise routine, stretching daily has many benefits. As our bodies age our muscles tighten and we lose some of the range of motion that we once enjoyed. Stretching can reverse these signs of aging by continuing to allow you to do the tasks that you expect. It doesn’t take a large time commitment, and the benefits far outweigh the effort. Start small and work your way into more stretches.
So What’s Stretching Have To Do With Massage?
Stretching is very important following a massage session. During the massage I am removing/releasing trigger points, or areas of built-up tension, within the muscles. Tension builds by: repetitive movements, gravity, moving around within our environment with a compromised gait pattern, exercising without stretching, the list goes on. Muscles kneaded and worked during the massage remove trigger points. When this happens, the brain sends a signal to the muscles to return to their natural resting states. The body does not feel tight any longer and fluids and chemicals flow freely inside the body.
So the person leaves the massage and returns to their daily life, right? Exactly, and then two weeks later they’re back in the same situation of pain and tightness. Stretching daily after massage sessions keeps muscles in a constant state of their natural resting length, happy and healthy!
The other important result of daily stretching in regards to massage sessions is Less Pain! An inflexible and tight body experiences a more painful session with slower progress. Better muscle tone + increased flexibility = less painful massage sessions. This is now when the person receives regular monthly massage sessions as maintenance to enjoy a “well-aging” body vs. someone who can’t seem to “kick the pain,” having massage sessions only last them a week or two. Make sense?
Ok, Then What Is the Proper Way To Stretch?
- Strengthen Then Stretch – I come from a ballet conditioning background, ballet being the most efficient way to strengthen the human body, and learned immediately that the fastest and healthiest result of balanced muscle tone is to first strengthen the muscle, then stretch it. Football players and professional athletes can attest to this – yes, they’re doing secret ballet conditioning, shhh! DO NOT STRETCH A COLD MUSCLE! This causes injury, tears, and frustration as flexibility is not found. Walk first, do a few movements first, then stretch. I stretch multiple times during the workout to constantly elongate the muscles. When you do this, you will not be sore the next day after workouts! The key to knowing when your body has achieved a healthy state of strength and flexibility is when you can get out of bed in the morning and immediately reach the same level of flexibility you have after a workout, be it touching your knees, ankles, or toes.
- Form, Form, Form – every stretch performed must have proper form to avoid injury and hyper-flexion. If you are unsure of proper form, look it up on the internet or have me demo the stretch for you.
- Protect the Lower Back – for any stretch done standing it is crucial to keep knees slightly bent and pelvis tilted forward to protect the lower back. Otherwise, as you’re getting a wonderful stretch in the target muscle, you compromise the lower back and scratch your head why your back feels like it’s “ready to go out” a few days later.
- BREATHE – it is a natural reaction to hold in our breath when we feel tension. This is the opposite of what the muscles need. While holding each stretch, breathe deeply! The science to this breathing mechanism is the pump. As we breathe deeply during our stretches, oxygen is physically being pumped into the muscles, allowing our bodies to extend, relax, and as a result, gain flexibility.
I do believe there are good stretches and bad stretches for the body. For more information, talk with me during your next session. I will help you choose the right stretches for your troubled area and create a customized protocol for you.
See you on the table!