Take note, when I refer to stretching, what I’m talking about is holding the end range of motion of a tissue; this is often referred to as static stretching, not to be confused with “feeling a stretch” during any movement. Like many elements of training and body maintenance, it often receives its fair share of misinterpretation. It has a variety of uses through various practitioning fields and training programs. So let’s give you the goods, doing my best to avoid words like viscoelasticity.
In some circles, stretching was originally prescribed to decrease the frequency of injury; unfortunately stretching temporarily decreases the force absorbing capacity of a tissue. If the load on a tissue is greater than the capacity of that tissue, injury occurs. So holding a prolonged stretch before training, might not be the best strategy to decrease the frequency of injury. Now if your range of motion improves, it opens up opportunities to build force absorbing capacity through a larger range of motion. That alone might encourage you to stretch should you see a value in a larger range of motion, but it will require a bunch of other work.
In some circles, stretching became a key component of maintaining and improving flexibility (ie. passive range of motion). The thought was holding the stretch for a prolonged period of time would increase the length of a tissue; however, the physical makeup of a tissue does not change as significantly as one would think. The structure remains relatively the same. So when your flexibility improves through stretching, it is actually improving by increasing your stretch tolerance. In other words, your nervous system (which governs everything) becomes more acquainted with the feeling, and allows you passive access to greater ranges of motion (lets you go further). Your nervous system is wired to protect you, so it often puts the breaks on way before you would actually need them, as in, you’re more flexible than you think. Like many other elements of training, your body will adapt to the imposed demand.
Now some people just stretch because it feels good. When you stretch, you can help direct blood-flow and nutrients to the stretched tissues. So an increase of blood-flow to the area combined with increased tolerance of the position, creates this stretch-induced analgesia. It feels good, like when you rub yourself. Sensory stimulation for the win.
- Improves passive range of motion “flexibility” through neurological adaptations
- Increases pain threshold through stretched-induced analgesia
So who, what, when, where, why should you stretch?
You’ll just have to read part 2 next week.
Emile Maxwell Connaughton