Life tends to make us tight; the older we get the less we can move like a toddler and contort our bodies in whatever position takes our fancy. Most of this can be remedied through a simple stretching and mobility plan done regularly, as the adage goes ‘use it or lose it’.
However we all want to get the most out of our invested time and effort. If we get more out of our stretches we will get to our goals quicker and they require less effort to maintain allowing us to focus on other areas of our health and fitness.
Flexibility is dependent upon a few main areas – the nervous system controlling the muscle, joint architecture and the soft issue itself. Long term we can change soft tissue but this takes time, the architecture of the joint you’re stuck with but your nervous system will allow instantaneous improvements on mobility and ease of movement. As with anything in life it’s not just what you do but how you do it.
The above video and points below summarise three things you can do to maximise the results from the invested time in a mobility routine. One caveat first – warm up with some simple movement first, a warmer muscle is a more supple muscle.
Your muscles have receptors which control tension. When you contract a muscle to prevent injury the muscle likes to relax, combining this into your stretches will ensure the muscle relaxes even more than normal and will deepen your stretch.
As an example for a hamstring stretch, get in to your hamstring stretch, take yourself down to the point of tension and hold your stretch for five to ten seconds. From here you will contract (push/pull) the muscle being stretched for 3-5 seconds before releasing and immediately deepening the stretch further. Repeat two or three times holding the last stretch for around twenty seconds. You will notice instant relaxation of the muscle and the stretch going further each time.
Your body works through systems of antagonists – basically every muscle has an opposing muscle which does an opposite action for the body. For one muscle to work effectively another muscle has to relax otherwise you wouldn’t move and a stale mate would occur. We can use this phenomena to get your hamstrings from the last stretch to go even deeper. During your period of stretching we will want to contract your quadricep muscle (the big thigh muscle on the front), when this muscle contracts your hamstrings will relax even further.
During your period of stretching in the final stage try to tense the front of your thigh for five seconds to relax the back of your thigh further.
Integrate the new flexibility into movement
We have all experienced the occasions where we stretch but a day or so later we feel tight again, some of this is due to our daily actions making us tight, some however is because we haven’t ingrained the new flexibility. Taking our new range of motion through a simple resisted movement sequence can assist in making your body more accustomed to that range and much more likely to accelerate your flexibility.
An example for your hamstring stretches would be to perform either a round back or flat back flamingo type movement to strengthen the new range of movement and get the body used to actively moving through this range.
As a bonus tip I would also suggest waiting out the tension – far too often we give a stretch ten seconds and leave it there. If you want to maximise your stretches wait out the tension to relax, go deeper until you feel that tension and hold again – the more time you spend in the stretch the looser a muscle will become – aim for sixty seconds per stretch. It’s better for a few key stretches done longer than lots done for a short period of time.
Whilst these are just three ways to improve your stretching there are many more which with some simple application can accelerate your mobility goals.
Glen Danbury, Personal Trainer and Masters in Nutrition
Client testimonial from Keith Graham
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