How to Stretch Properly

Types of Flexibility

 Non-dynamic  – Passive, self-myofascial release, active, isometric, and active assisted stretching techniques are all non-dynamic. This type of flexibility is less complex and usually achieved in one movement plane, sometimes two, and is best used to correct posture imbalances and elongate muscles because of its relatively simple methods. It does not transfer very well into dynamic or multi-planar flexibility because it lacks the neuromuscular coordination. Non-dynamic flexibility is the foundation of stretching and should be the first goal of any novice or injured person.

 Dynamic – Dynamic techniques, like Yoga movements, are the only way to achieve dynamic flexibility. This type of flexibility is controlled by the neuromuscular system and allows the muscles to elongate while controlling the body’s speed, direction, balance, and coordination. Therefore, coordination is required to avoid injury. All three planes of movement should be challenged in a way that prepares the body for real life situations, such as reaching behind the wash machine to pick up fallen clothing. Dynamic flexibility cannot be totally converted into non-dynamic flexibility because the maximum length allowed by the muscle is rarely reached in a dynamic stretch.

  • Both types are needed for overall flexibility.

 Example: An athlete has a daily routine of non-dynamic stretching for the entire body and can pass every basic ROM test there is, but he/she does not do any dynamic stretching. If they are blessed with great coordination and flexibility it is possible to escape wear and tear or clumsy injuries. But, if they are like most people, they will need to practice dynamic flexibility, otherwise a situation will eventually occur that puts the body into a position it has neither the strength, flexibility, or coordination to control, all of which could have been trained through dynamic stretching.

How far is enough to get a good stretch?

The goal isn’t to go as far as one can, rather as far as one should. The end-feel of a stretch is the best guide to how far and even if stretching should be done. If the end-feel is a structural blockage or sharp pain, then stretching can do more harm than good. But if the end-feel is a leathery restriction, like muscle, then stretching should help the limitation.

Stretch the muscle to the barrier (first point of moderate tension), hold until the muscle “let’s go” or about 20-30 seconds is reached, then, relax it or gently stretch it to the next point of noticeable tension. 

Repeat this cycle 3-5 times total.

More is not always better when it comes to twisting, bending, pulling, pushing, and everything else that is possible to do to the body. It can be a fine line between injury and improvement depending on the condition of the surrounding tissues and the stretching techniques used. Stretching to the limit will often create instability in the involved joint(s) due to surpassing the ability of the antagonistic muscle to stabilize the joint(s). A great way to prevent overstretching is to stretch slowly and smoothly, get the muscles warm, and make sure the surrounding muscles (especially the antagonist) can support the joint in that position.

Breathing

If breathing isn’t relaxed and synchronized with the stretch, then results will be poor. The exhalation helps relax the muscle and is most beneficial during the elongation phase. While holding a stretch for the appropriate time the inhalation should be similar to the exhalation in force and duration (3-5 seconds in, 3-5 seconds out, with a pause in between). This isn’t always possible at the beginning of a difficult stretch, but by the last few seconds a rhythm should be achieved, otherwise the muscles won’t completely relax and accept the new length. At first it will seem impossible to relax in some of the new positions, but by focusing on proper breathing it is possible to reach the muscle’s greatest stretch potential.

 

The physical aspect of stretching

 Thinking about it energetically, the brain sends impulses to the muscle telling it to move, receptors in the muscle are constantly sending impulses back to the brain informing it about the muscle’s position, speed of movement, length, and tension.18,19  Receptors in the muscle also send signals back to the spinal cord that shoot right back to the muscle, totally bypassing the brain, these are reflex arcs, the simplest being the stretch reflex.18,19

The stretch reflex increases tension in the muscle being lengthened, and has a static and dynamic component16,27 so as long as the muscle is moving it will have some tension in it that interferes with its passive stretch potential. This tension will increase proportionally with the speed of the stretch.16,27  Therefore, a slow stretch should be applied to inhibit tension in the muscle (autogenic inhibition) and facilitate its elongation.17 Also holding the stretch for at least twenty seconds will stimulate the golgi tendon reflex and inhibit the muscle spindle’s stretch reflex, which will create an adaptation in the muscle spindles and allow the muscle to stretch further without initiating the stretch reflex.27

These reflexes help the body function on a daily basis (maintaining posture and muscle tone)18,19 but can limit stretching if they are not understood. If the reflexes are not taken advantage of, then stretching is just like any other movement, it will move the muscle without any affect on its long term length.

Experience leads the author to believe that the reflex arcs are hypersensitive when the mind is busy, therefore allowing a smaller stimulus to activate the reflex and decrease the muscle’s stretch potential. In order to best override the stretch reflex the mind must be relaxed. When the mind is focused on body awareness the muscles can relax along with the reflex arcs, allowing for a maximal stretch. Injuries and sharp pains are exceptions, even if they can be tuned out, they shouldn’t.

While relaxation is often a goal of stretching, the rest of the body should not be limp during the stretch. For instance, while stretching the low back it is often beneficial to activate the abdominal muscles in order to stabilize the intervertebral segments against excessive motion.

 

The mental aspect of stretching

Stretching is best done with a quiet mind and some knowledge of how the muscles respond to lengthening. The mind and body are always communicating, and when the mind is busy their connection is weakened. What one did and what one has to do are thoughts that often cause a level of anxiety undetectable to a busy brain but are enough to interfere with the reflex arcs.

Stretching can act as a time out from the daily routine and unite the physical with the mental. Instead of the muscles reacting to the brain (stress), the brain should interact with the muscles when stretching. For instance, during a stretch if it becomes uncomfortable, one can back off, breath through it, or hold it anyway while gritting the teeth and hardly breathing (yes, you). This last technique usually adds more stress than it takes away. Instead, interact with the muscle by breathing smoothly and clearing the mind, this takes practice. Then it is possible to feel the muscle and each tightness surrounding it. Without reacting to the tightness the breath can be used to sooth the muscles and establish a new and improved length that wasn’t possible with the old reflex arc, not to mention increase circulation and body awareness.

This doesn’t have to be an enlightening experience, rather a timeout from the outside world and a union with the inside. This moment should be enjoyed; it’s a great thing to be able to improve health just by breathing and paying attention to the body. Without this “timeout” stretching is just another movement that can add stress to the body.

This is of course an ideal way to stretch that is not always possible, but time should be taken to have ideal sessions whenever possible.

In general, if stretching is not the minds focus and enjoyable, then it will not fully benefit the body.

Back Pain Lesson #2 – SITTING

One of the biggest contributers to low back pain (LBP) is prolonged and repetitive sitting. Lesson 2 offers a simple remedy to prevent and improve LBP. Just follow these easy tips, stretches and movements to a life with much less pain and even increased energy from a more efficient body.

Meet the Chair Jockey

A chair jockey is someone who spends too much time sitting on a daily basis. Prolonged sitting causes “deloading” of the tissues, which occurs from lack of gravity stress on the body and results in a weakening of the stabilizing muscles. This deloading reduces the body’s ability to resist gravity during sports or simply standing, and works on the following principles;

 Sitting = non-weight bearing = poor muscle recruitment & posture = ↓ energy/productivity = ↑ injuries

 Standing = weight bearing = ↑ leg and spine strength = ↑ energy & mental capacity = ↓ pain & injuries

 The Chair Jockey Workout is designed to be simple and time efficient. It can be used throughout the day in the office or at home to keep the body’s stabilizing muscles strong and activated. This routine improves posture and reduces stress at the precise areas needed to reverse the harmful effects of sitting and repetitive movements, which add up at the end of the day and week and cause dull aches or even pain in the low back, neck, and shoulders. It is the best answer to a busy schedule of sitting and a life full of aches and pains.

It should take no more than 6 or 7 minutes each time and should be done in the order shown. They can be repeated throughout the day to break up the constant strain of non-gravity induced poor posture. These exercises are also ideal for traveling because they can be done in a hotel room without any equipment, although exercise tubing is good to have.

 Exercise Descriptions

  • Hold all stretches for 20-30 seconds with relaxed breathing

 

#1 - Squats

 #1 – Squats

  • Squats can be done with the arms pointing upward or straight in front of the chest. 
  • Suck in the stomach, squat down, and stick the hips backwards as if sitting into a chair.
  • Don’t let the knees go past the toes. 
  • Move slowly and pause at the bottom, stretching the arms away from the body.
  • Keep the shoulders relaxed and the head in-line with the spine (pointing downward)
  • Repeat as many as time or effort permits. 

 

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 #2 – Front Thigh Stretch

  • This stretch can also be done with the back knee on the ground.
  • Suck in the stomach and squeeze the buttocks on the side of the leg in back.
  • Reach upward, don’t arch the low back, and slightly twist the torso away from the front leg.       

 Chest Stretch

#3 – Chest Stretch

  • Stand tall, stomach sucked in slightly, and relax the rest of the body.
  • Squeeze the shoulder blades together and hold 5-10 seconds, continue breathing. Repeat 5-10 times.

 

A

 #4 - Thoracic Spine Extension

B

#4 - Upper Spine Extension
#4 – Upper Spine Extension
 
  •  Kneeling on a pad, suck in the stomach and brace the upper body with hands on knees. 
  • Slouch forward to assume the rest position. 
  • Keeping the lower back stationary and stable, use the vertical muscles along the spine to push the chest outward (extending the mid/upper back). 
  • Keep the head in line with the spine. 
  • Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.  

 

Toe Raises

#5 – Toe Raises

  • Using 1 or 2 legs, (reaching upward is optional), raise yourself up onto the ball of your foot and repeat up and down slowly 15-30 times.
  • Keep the stomach sucked in and stay on the inside of the ball of the foot.     
 
 
Front Thigh Stretch 
 
#6 – Front Thigh Stretch
  • See # 2, but use a chair.  
 
Calve Stretch 
B

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 #7 – Push-up/Calve Stretch

  • Starting in the calve stretch, try to push the heels into the floor and the chest towards the thighs.
  • Keep the stomach sucked in with relaxed breathing.
  • Transition into a push-up position (on knees or straight legs), and move up and down as slow as possible in order to work the back also.
  • Do as many as time or effort permits.

   Rotator Cuff

#8 – Rotator Cuff Strengthening

  • Tubing is optional, but optimal.
  • Keeping the elbows at your side, start with the hands in front of the belly button and rotate the arms so that the fists go away from the body.
  • Hold at the end point for a few seconds and repeat slowly 15-30 times.

 Shoulder Blade Squeeze

      # 9 –  Shoulder blade squeezes

  • Tubing is optional, but optimal.
  • Palms can face up or down.
  • Keeping the stomach sucked in with upright, yet relaxed posture, start with the arms in front of the chest and squeeze the shoulder blades together and bring the arms backwards, posture should not change.
  • Hold at the end point for a few seconds and repeat 10-15 times slowly.

 

One Leg Balance 

     #10 – One leg balance

  • Keeping the hips level, stand on 1 leg for 30-60 seconds, progressing to eyes closed.
  • Focus on good body and foot posture.

 

Posterior leg Stretch

     #11 – Leg stretch

  • This can be done facing (not shown) and or twisting away from the chair.
  • Place the foot up on a chair, keep the spine upright and slightly lean towards the foot.
  • Stretch the foot up and down to add a stretch to the calves.
  • Keep the stomach sucked in and don’t slouch the low back.

 

One Leg Flying 

     #12 – Spine/Back exercise

  • Keeping the stomach sucked in without slouching the low back, squeeze both glutes and raise one leg.
  • Hold the arms outward by squeezing the shoulder blades together.
  • Keep the head in line with spine.
  • Push the raised leg and arms out and away from the body. Hold for 15-30 seconds each side.

Relaxing Head Rub Neck Stretch

                    A                                                        B

    #13 – Neck stretching and facial relaxation

  • Sitting, gently tug on the back of the head in all directions searching for tight spots in the neck muscles.
  • Hold each tight spot for 20-30 seconds and focus on breathing.
  • The other hand can be used to massage the area being stretched.
  • After the neck is stretched, massage the temples while making every possible facial expression in order to energize and relax tension in the head.
  • Lastly, focus the eyes on something distant to relax them.

 

#14 – Neck stability pushes & temple rubs

There are 4 main directions that the neck moves; rotation, side bending, forward flexion and extension, plus left and right adds two more. Your goal is to lightly activate the neck muscles by pushing your head in each direction, 10 reps at a time, into your hand. The hand will resist your head so it doesn’t actually move, it just pushes in the direction.

  • Keep the pushes light, don’t strain.
  • Do 10 reps of 3-5 second pushes in each direction.
  • The palm of your hand is on the front of your head for forward flexion, the back of head for extension, the temple for rotation, and the side of the head for side bending.
  • This exercise often results in instant relief of head and neck pain because it activates the small muscles needed to hold the head properly.
  
  
Sitting and Low Back Pain

Tips for Sitting

  1. ALWAYS use a lumbar support for the low back.
  2. Shift position constantly to distribute stress to various areas.
  3. When picking something off the floor or bending down, place one hand on a knee and slightly lift up the buttocks while maintain an arched low back.
  4. Don’t twist. Always face whatever task is at hand by turning the body as a unit.
  5. Don’t read papers that are flat on the desk. Prop them up so the head isn’t flexed all the way forward and down.
  6. Have the keyboard and mouse at the same level as the elbows when they are naturally hanging at your side. Also keep them at a forearms distance away from your body so that no reaching occurs.
  7. Use arm rests to take pressure off the low back.
  8. Keep the monitor about 18 inches from your eyes and make sure lighting is sufficient so that they are more relaxed.
  9. If you are on the phone a lot, support your “phone arm” with an elbow on the desk and switch sides often.

     10.  Posture is an attitude that creates a physical state. Be aware of deadlines and stress weighing down the body into poor posture. Use relaxed breathing and thoughts of what you are grateful for           to  improve posture and reduce stress.

     11.  Take frequent breaks to introduce movement to the body and keep its systems working efficiently, i.e. The Chair Jockey Workout.

     12.  Drink plenty of water.

     13.  Do the following exercises at the end of the day to reverse some of the damages caused by sitting.

Leg Elevation

Leg Elevation on Wall

  •  Laying on a flat surface, scoot the buttocks as close as possible to a wall and prop the legs up.
  • Lay in this position for 5-10 minutes to facilitate circulation of stagnant blood. 

 

Wall Posture Practice 

Standing Wall Posture Exercise

  • Standing with feet 3 inches from wall, keep the entire spine, back, and neck touching the wall by using the lower abdominals to “tuck in your tail”.
  • Hold for 3 minutes in a natural manner.