For some people, stretching can seem like a fruitless endeavor. No matter how much they work at it they tighten back up again. But there is a really good reason why your body does this.
To further clarify, there’s actually a few components to developing strength and coordination in the new range of motion we seek from stretching and I recommend you play with them.
Static Stretching vs. PNF Stretching
Static stretching is what most people are familiar with. You stretch as far as you can into a position and then hang out there for awhile passively.
With PNF or Proprioceptive Neurological Facilitation, the fun only begins when you get to where the static stretching ends. Once you’re at the point where you can’t stretch any farther, contract the stretched muscle for 5 seconds, then relax and go farther into the stretch. Repeat 3-5 times.
Each time, you will not only be able magically go even farther, but by contracting the muscle, you’ll be teaching your nervous system that it has new range of motion to work in.
You can also apply the laws of reciprocal inhibition and contract the antagonist of the muscle you are stretching. Instead of contracting the muscle you are stretching,contract the opposite muscle by pulling yourself farther into the stretch. Hold for 5 seconds and then repeat 3-5 times.
By contracting one muscle, the nervous system inhibits the other and helps it relax. And again, you’ll be teaching your nervous system that it has new range of motion to work in.
After you’ve performed the PNF stretches it is good to follow them up with some slow controlled, full range of motion movements. This way your brain has a chance to understand what your body now has the ability to do. And more importantly, it can practice telling your nervous system how to safely orchestrate the symphony of movements you would like it to perform.
use it or lose it
We’ve all heard that phrase before. If you want to keep the range of movement you gain from stretching then you need to use it regularly, otherwise your body can fall back to old patterns.
If your body feels stuck when you’re trying to stretch and you can’t really make any progress at all, then you may need to find a professional to help. There may be soft tissue adhesions, scar tissue or jammed joints. These issues can be very difficult to identify and correct on your own.
This is where you’ll need to start forming your team of chiropractors, structural therapists and/or physical therapists. Sometimes you may find one person that can do it all and sometimes you’ll find several people that do different things wonderfully.
Got further questions about how to stretch better? Go ahead and leave it below in the comment box.