Are you doing it right?
Often I hear patients saying they have tried stretching in order to increase flexibility, or reduce muscular pain, however it doesn’t seem to help them. At this point I usually ask them to demonstrate the stretch without giving them any cues and I almost always see the same thing!
Let me start by saying, you can’t achieve an effective static stretch on a muscle that is working/active. Let me explain what I mean by this, let’s take this common hamstring stretch seen below:
One problem with this particular stretch is when you lean forward, your hamstrings activate to stop you falling forward, which means the nervous system won’t allow it to relax/lengthen and therefore you will not achieve the stretch effectively.
Another problem with this stretch is balance. When in this position and many other common stretching positions, you are forced to balance and hold the position, causing lots of muscle activation.
So what can you do?
Without showing you how to perform 100’s of stretches, I will give you some guidelines when choosing a stretch.
Positioning - This is the most important aspect, without this nothing will work. You need to find a position where, if needed, you could stay for 20 minutes, this shows you are relaxed.
For the hamstring stretch discussed above, I would adapt it to the stretch seen here where you are laying on your back in a door way, meaning no balance is required, the door frame is then holding the leg in position, meaning no muscle activation is needed on the target muscle!
Balance required? No ✔︎
Target muscle relaxed? Yes ✔︎
Could you stay in this position for 20 minutes? Yes ✔︎
Good static hamstring stretch? Yes ✔︎
Time - When trying to stretch timing is important, the muscle won’t even start to relax for at least 15-20 seconds so my advice is to stretch between 45-60 seconds per stretch.
Intensity - When performing a stretch you don’t want to burst a blood vessel trying to force yourself into a muscle tearing stretch! ‘No pain no gain’ won’t work! Instead perform your stretch so you feel a slight pull on the target muscle around a 2/10. What you will then find is after approx 45-60 seconds the stretch won’t feel like a stretch anymore and you will be able to increase the stretch further, to reach the 2/10 intensity once again.
Frequency - I usually recommend stretching 3-4 times a day minimum, to allow for adaptation.
H A P P Y S T R E T C H I N G!