The final installment! We have learned a great deal about flexibility so far, and still have some important points to make. We have talked so far about fundamentals and the best way to build a foundation for a solid flexibility practice. We will finish with some ideas that challenge the current stretching thought process, as well as set the stage to build a desirable habit.
Previously on The Dos and Don’ts of Self-Stretching:
Focus on Breath
Stretch by Feeling R1
Treat Each Side Differently
DON’T- Stretch Muscle
The idea that you can target a specific muscle and stretch it by itself is outdated. It is impossible to isolate a muscle because of the fascial tissue wrapping around it connecting it to a whole system. In typical anatomy class, you may learn how muscles attach to each other on bones through tendons and ligaments. While there is truth to that, there was definitely a massive missing component from the equation. The missing layer happened to be connective tissue. More specifically, fascia!
In discovering the fascial connection within the body, we can better understand flexibility and mobility. The connection explains why you may feel a typical hamstring stretch in the calf or foot, or a pec stretch through the entire forearm and hand. With this idea, you will better understand how stretching can have an effect on your entire body (global) instead of just one area (local). Even if you are focusing on a local piece such as the bicep, there will be a change in tension throughout the fascial net. This concept also applies to training. When you are doing bicep curls you are not only strengthening your biceps; you are working on your wrist flexors (and all the other muscles in the deep front arm net), stabilizing your scapula, eccentrically lengthening your triceps to control the descension, etc.
DO- Stretch Fascia
To expand on this point, I will begin by presenting a phrase that is definitely catching on everythwere I look:
“Everything is connected!”
It is true; and I am entirely guilty of saying this to clients, friends, and family. Fascia is the connective tissue system of the body, and it runs through nearly everything within it. I will put the link to my short and sweet blog on fascia below. People are discovering new things about fascia every day, so stay tuned for part two!
Knowing how fascia works with movement gives freedom to stretching! You are no longer limited by increasingly specific stretches. There is more than one way to do things, so there are many routes you can take to get your hamstrings to lengthen (if they even need to, but that’s for another post?). For example, take the image down below. When doing this classic stretch, the idea is that you are stretching the hamstrings locally. In reality, you are looking globally by stretching everything along the fascial net that it lies in. In this case, that is the superficial back net (SBN).
The SBN runs from the bottom of the big toe/foot all the way up over the crown of the head. This net includes the sole of the foot, calves, hamstrings, back muscles, sub-occipitals, etc. In any stretch you do, there is a change in tension within the fascial net. Your fascial net will adapt to how you use it (ex: circus artist vs. bodybuilder). The goal of your stretching is to balance that tension to a point where tightness, discomfort, or pain are limited/not present without tampering function.
DON’T-Stretch “Just Because”
The perception we have of certain practices has a huge bearing on if we will do them or not. As I have stated previously, I encounter quite a few people who feel guilty they do not stretch. Modern lifestyles are absolutely packed with countless things to do and associating a task you want to become a habit with a negative emotion will do you no favors.
If you know a task is valuable, you will find a way to take action towards it. You can have the knowledge that something is good for you, but that doesn’t mean it is valuable to you and your lifestyle….yet. Consider the following: you know watching your favorite show after work is very important to you. You structure your day around finding the time to add it in to your day, even if you have to multi-task. You find value in the activity; therefore, it finds a spot. The same can be said with stretching. If you have an intention for how you will make your body feel, it will find a spot within your day (even if it’s a few minutes).
I look at stretching as a practice that has a huge potential upside when done correctly. Utilizing the information in these blogs, I hope to empower you to find where stretching has value for you, and how you can easily implement it. Every person has their own reason, or “why”, behind how they improve themselves every day, and stretching just because everyone else is will not work for you and your life. I encourage you to look beyond the mundane feeling behind stretching and find the beauty in being able to help yourself every day.
DO- Have an Intention with Each Stretch
After reading the section above, you might be thinking about how stretching is valuable to you. Keep in mind the value will stay the same, but the intent will change. Every time you take that step to stretch for the day, your intent is going to be slightly different. That is a great thing! That means you are not going in before every workout and grabbing a band and over-stretching places you don’t need to just because everyone else is. That means no matter what scenario you decide to stretch, it is in your best interest. You are the only person that matters in your stretching practice, because only you can feel what is going on in your body. The intent of stretching at the end of a long and stressful day should be different than stretching in the morning. You have the freedom to make stretching work for whatever purpose you need it for each time you do it.
Not only that, but the more you are able to feel stretches and have awareness to more areas of the body, the less random aches and pains will come up. You will be ahead of the curve in knowing how your body reacts to short-term kinks before they become a problem. For example, you feel a twinge in your back after a sedentary day. You go to the gym to work it out a bit but it still doesn’t feel better. You assess post-workout that your glutes are a bit tight. You address that tightness and notice that twinge is no longer there. In listening to your body, you were able to help yourself and now know how to possibly prevent that twinge again. This is an extremely simplified example, but it shows how you are able to take control of your own pain (more than you might think!). The better you are able to feel your body and what it is telling you, the more you will listen.
If you should take away one thing from this article, it is to have intention. Intend to make necessary changes in the fascial net, to make stretching a practice, to help yourself have longevity. Being healthy is earned, not a given. It is a lovely practice to work at every day. Just remember progress may be a jagged line instead of a straight one, but it is still progress.
Thank you so much for reading! I love what I do and get excited when I get the opportunity to write about it. I appreciate your support, and would love to know what else you want to see from me!
Stay Flexy, My Friends.
Frederick, A., Frederick, C. (2006) Stretch to Win. Champaign: Human Kinetics.
Frederick, A., Frederick, C. (2014) Fascial Stretch Therapy. 1st ed. Pencaitland, Scotland, UK: Handspring Publishing Ltd.
Myers, Thomas W. Anatomy Trains. Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier, 2009.
Jameison, S., Daily Durability