Stretching is a hot topic in the rehab and performance worlds. One side of the argument says stretching is the best thing since sliced bread while others think it is terrible if you are seen stretching. Then the majority of the rehab and performance worlds lie in the middle.
Stretching isn’t for everyone but it can be an effective technique to improve mobility, strength, and reduce the risk for injuries.
There are many schools of thought on why stretching does or doesn’t work. Some believe there is actual muscle lengthening going on while it is a change in perception at the central nervous system causing an improvement in motion.
We are not here to debate one or the other. In order to maximize the benefit of stretching for yourself, here are 3 common reasons why it isn't working!
Having a basic idea of position and muscle orientation is imperative in order to get the most out of stretching for you or your client. If the body isn’t in an ideal position to work on a specific stretch, then you may as well just be wasting your time.
For example, performing a standing Quadriceps stretch:
Areas of Concern:
-Anterior Pelvic Tilt
Standing Hamstring stretch:
Areas of Concern:
-Lumbar Spine Flexion
Standing Soleus Stretch
Areas of Concern:
-Subtalar Pronation of Rearfoot
The common trend will all 3 of these various stretches is poor positioning. Either everything under the sun is being stretched, other structures we may not want to stretch are being stretched, or there is undue stress being placed on other areas that could cause irritation over time.
By understanding the basic orientation of the musculature, a better stretch can be performed and the amount of strain can be decreased on adjacent structures.
For a more effective Quadriceps stretch, try performing the ½ Kneeling Couch Stretch:
-Neutral lumbar spine
-Perform a Posterior Pelvic Tilt aka “Tuck your Tailbone” or “Bring Your Belt to Your Chin.”
For a more effective Hamstring stretch, try performing the Supine 90/90 Hamstring Stretch:
Supine 90/90 Hamstring Stretch
-Bring knee up to hip height.
-Straighten knee until stretch is felt in hamstrings.
Standing Modified Hamstring Stretch
-Make sure to maintain a neutral spine.
-Move through the hip, not the lumbar spine.
For a more effective Soleus stretch, try performing the same stretch, but with the lower leg angled towards midline.
Modified Soleus Stretch
-Make sure lower leg is angled slightly towards midline.
-Turning the lower leg towards midline will place a truer stretch on the muscle vs the joint.
2. Relative Stiffness
Stiffness is not a bad thing. Stiffness often gets bad rap because it is associated with tissues being physiologically “short.” Stiffness can refer to stability in an adjacent joint or area of the body.
For example, when someone performs a deadlift, stiffness in the lumbar spine or a stable lumbar spine is important in order to generate maximal force and reduce risk of injury.
The reason relative stiffness is so important when it comes to stretching is that if someone does not exude proper stability at adjacent joints, then the effectiveness of the stretch is reduced and other structures may be stretched that we may not want to be.
For example, when performing the hamstring stretch mentioned above, by maintaining a neutral spine, relative stiffness is present at the lumbar spine to allow for maximal mobility at the hips and hamstrings.
When someone is performing a hip flexor stretch,
By pressing down into the elevated leg and/or activating the glute on the trail leg, this places the pelvis in a more neutral alignment and in turn creating stiffness and stability at the lumbopelvic complex.
When stretching the lats,
Most people will grab onto something and pull on their arm. This can place undue stress on the glenohumeral and scapulothoracic joints. Instead, by using the opposite hand to fixate the scapula to the rib cage, this creates relative stiffness at the scapulothoracic joint and provides a more effective stretch to the lats.
3. Prolonged Periods of Inactivity
This can happen to anyone! Whether you are a desk jockey working 10-14 hour days at a computer OR are someone who stands for their profession, prolonged periods of time where you are in a static position can wreak havoc on your mobility.
If you are someone who sits or stands throughout the day, try these tips:
There you have it! Next time you are stretching, make sure you are placing your body in a correct position. This will allow for stretching of the appropriate muscle group and create relative stiffness and stability at adjacent joints to get the most out of your stretches.
Here I will be writing and posting about topics ranging from physical therapy, injury prevention/reduction, and strength and conditioning.