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I am just a regular guy who is learning the importance of happiness through diet and exercise. I am in school for sociology and psychology, I do not have a formal degree in nutrition or fitness. I do all research on my own time through books, internet, friends, documentaries, and school. I believe in basics, and I want to clear through the smoke surrounding a lot of nutrition and fitness claims pushed to the public, and find the one's they try to hide.I also like to discuss other topics related to happiness.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Stretching for Dummies: The Science and the Obvious.

Static Stretching

First off, NEVER do static stretching before you workout, it can restrict blood-flow to the muscles and turn off the central nervous response making you more susceptible to injury. This is meant to be post-workout to improve recovery and flexibility. It is a myth that you should do this before workouts, and is no longer accepted by those who do their research. The first 7-10 seconds that you stretch a muscle to tension you are not actually stretching anything. The muscle you brings to tension has a neurological response to contract for the first few seconds. In order to get an actual stretch you need to hold it to tension the first 7-10 seconds, at which point the central nervous system basically turns off for that area, and then breath in deeply and stretch it further as you exhale. Hold it to this new point of tension for 15-60 secs to achieve flexibility benefits. Research does not yet show too much difference between holding it 15 or 60 secs after you shut the central nervous system off, so it is up to you. However, research does show you need to repeat this at least 4 reps. 

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (P.N.F.)

This is better than static stretching, but requires another person to do some stretches, or at least something to provide tension. For this you pull the muscle you are targeting to tension for 7-10 secs, again to shut off the central nervous system response, then push against the stretch with about a 5-6 out of 10 effort for 6-15 secs. (Ex: have someone push your knee into your chest while you push it back towards them, or you can use a belt) After the 6-15 secs stop resisting and you will be able to breath out and stretch further to a new point of tension. You can hold it at this new point of tension and repeat the process as many times as you see improvement. This is also typically meant for post-workout to improve recovery and flexibility.

Dynamic Movement

This is really a movement, not a stretch, and is meant to be done before you workout to warm up the muscles and turn on the central nervous system to the appropriate areas. Some people call it Dynamic stretching or ballistic stretching however. Ballistic is a more explosive form of dynamic movements, and is intended for those who are at an excellent fitness level. Dynamic movements are for those who have a decent fitness, and are more controlled and slower paced movements that mimic those you will be using in the activity you are about to perform. So if you are going to be running, maybe do some trunk twists and lunges. If you are going to be playing basketball then maybe do some jump rope and some arm circles. You want to think of what movements you will be making and mimic movements that will activate the central nervous system in those areas and get blood flowing there.

Micro Fascial Release

Your body has a thin layer of what is kind of like a shrink wrap over your entire body. It is one connected piece, and if it is tight in one area it can pull the micro fascia from another area tight as well and cause tightness, knots, or pain. Research is showing that these knots that we typically thought were in the muscle are actually in this micro fascia layer, where the it has been "knotted" up. By using something like a foam roller or other available tools to roll over these areas, you release them back to their normal shape and essentially can remove tight spots, reduce pain and soreness, and most importantly prevent injury. To do this you simply roll a foam roller or hard ball like a trigger point ball over the areas you find sore for 30-45 secs with a 3-6" movement. This is more important than people realize and can help solve many problems if done on a regular basis. It will help with recovery, relief muscle soreness, improve flexibility, and help prevent injury. Yoga is good at helping to stretch out the micro fascia to gain some of these benefits also. 


Stretching is extremely important, and there are certain types required for certain times and for specific fitness levels. If you do not stretch you will naturally not gain better flexibility, and you will actually lose what you have now. It is the simple principle of use it or lose it. If you sit in a chair 12 hours a day and don't even stretch your hip muscles will shorten and you will develop bad skeletal posture and a whole host of other problems. Stretching is an important part of any fitness routine, so integrate these different techniques into your program and you will see great benefits.

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