The balanced body – 3 (mobility & flexibility)

The 3rd instalment of The Balanced Body series, we delve into stretching and body movement. Offering some great advice on this often overlooked area of training.

Definition of Stretch - A mechanical and/or sensational change, in the behaviour of the muscle tissue.

This third chapter of the balanced body series is all about what I often refer to as the ‘icing on the cake’. It’s the finishing touch you could say, a polished refinement that many unfortunately deem somewhat unnecessary. But when you come to think about it, what is the point of creating that delicious cake without that icing?

Enough with the cake talk, part 3 is all about the process in keeping the body happy and moving better  connective tissue and joints more supple by preventing tight angry muscles. In turn affecting the body’s ability to train effectively, thus increasing the chance of injury.

-‘One could surly agree the pay off is reduced in training for a stronger body, when only to be continually plagued by tight, stiff and restricted muscles’

Stiffness, soreness and postural changes happen slowly over time and because of this we unknowingly condition to these changes and often unaware of the effects they place on our body.
While many will make their post workout amino acid or whey protein shake a priority, neglecting their post workout stretch is all too common.

If this sound like you, this chapter may get you thinking a little more.


 

Is stretching really as good as some claim ?

For those of you who may have recovered from an injury or chronic soreness, chances are you’ll have an effective stretching and mobility routine that has made a substantial difference.

There will always be contrasting views on the value of stretching, nonetheless, here are a few reasons why I promote it:

  • Stretching can assist the effectiveness of the flow of blood through vessels and connective tissues, which can help carry nutrients into muscle tendons and ligaments to aid in function and repair of damaged and inflamed tissue
  • A great side effect of a consistent stretching routine is increased mobility, allowing an improved range of motion throughout the  body
  • Supple muscles and connective tissue improve the ability to train effectively, by allowing better muscular activation
  • Stretching will also help to release fascia, or more clinically known as the epimysium our muscles are covered and entwined with. This muscle fascia holds your muscles together which creates shape to the muscle belly. I like to think of this as a tough piece of cling wrap.

 

Did you know that an inactive lifestyle can basically program this fascia to restrict movement? Tight fascia can inhibit muscles from elongating and expanding, which has the ability to rob you of not just a quality range of movement, but also can affect muscle definition and aesthetics.

 

Does active stretching really change muscle length?

Dynamic and static are two common types of stretching that have have been widely studied, so we know a great deal about both their short and long term effects.
Studies on Joint flexibility – Harvey (2002), Hamstring flexibility – Decoster (2005), Calf flexibility – Radford (2006))  and Weppler CH, Magnusson SP. (2010) all showed stretching did increase flexibility/muscle length due to the viscoelastic properties of muscle, as measured by joint range of movement in these different muscle groups.

Over time, increased muscle length in combination with reduced body fat in most eyes, will improve your appearance. At least 9 out of every 10 women I consult with, all state that a more slender longer toned muscle is the appearance they wish to strive for. While the majority of this will factor on predetermined genetics, a mechanical element will contribute to this goal.
– In other words, just as you may choose to train to develop larger muscles, over time it’s possible you can train your body to develop more slender muscles also.

 

Does stretching affect performance?

Aside from personal anecdotal evidence I witness everyday, it’s clearly shown in scientific controlled studies, the beneficial effects a number of different muscular performance variables have.
In the studies Effect on performance – Shrier (2004) and Effect on strength – Rubini (2007) they not only conclude that stretching programs appear to lead to meaningful improvements in performance tasks, such as strength and performance. The study go on to mention that longer duration and frequency also plays a key role in this.

My experience in dealing with a broad range of athletes ranging from surfers, soccer players, football players and cricketers, feedback of a noticeable improved recovery in days after that consistently gives credit to the stretching and mobility programs I prescribe. Improvements in strength and muscular development, can also be seen when introducing regular effective reformer pilates sessions in conjunction with the standard gym styled workout.

 

Does stretching affect risk of injury?

You would think so, right? I mean along with all other benefits stretching has, surly athletic and professional teams stretch to reduce injury?

The jury is still out on this one, there is either conflicting evidence or insufficient conclusive research to make this call. The study of injury risk factors would have close to an infinite variable list, meaning controlled studies could never really be truly controlled. There are just too many variables to be considered.

In taking a common sense approach, I’m sure most people would agree that there’s an increased chance of injury if that person experiences muscle tightness, stiffness and a limited range of motion. If stretching and mobility work help prevent this, then it should also contribute to reduce the chance of possible injury.

 

What is a good stretching protocol?

The key is to stretch properly, a tiny mindful change in the way you stretch can make a huge difference. If you’re not stretching the right way it’s often said, you’re wasting your time.

A good stretching protocol can be as individual as you are and in my opinion should be incorporated into the workout as naturally as squats are incorporated into a strengthening routine. Often, it’s the simple key stretches when held for an extended period in a relaxed state that offers the best results.

Although injury may restrict certain movements, it’s important to target connective tissue and muscle groups that are working or used regularly, ideally before they become painful and restrictive where inflammation can occur.
Areas such as the lower body, where hips and calves play a crucial role in the bodies foundation for alignment and posture should be given priority. Range of movement through the hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors play a major role in many issues commonly experienced with lower back stiffness and pain.

A casual stretching routine consisting of throwing a leg up for a 5 second bouncing hamstring stretch and a few lower back twists will promote little, just like a casual half hearted resistance program won’t really give you good muscular and strength results.

Personally, it can often be the environment in which you train in that places a degree of influence in determining the benefits of your stretching routine. I say this from experience, if your training partner places little value on it then there’s a good chance that mindset can affect you also. If you value and want to make an improved effort with stretching and mobility, always be mindful of the environment you train in.

To give you an idea, I personally offset my resistance training with a minimum 60/40 ratio of resistance training against stretching and muscle mobility work. I do this by always placing effective stretching between sets of heavier resistance and after resistance sessions will always include 15 minutes of cooling down stretching.
At least once week I will opt for a hot yoga or a reformer Pilates session and where possible, a morning walk in the park with a stretching routine to set up my day in a positive way and it also gives opportunity for a little grounding.

Unfortunately ladies, contrary to popular belief stretching will not necessarily help you tone up. However, stretching in combination with resistance training can certainly help you improve muscle tone, more than resistance training will do alone.

When a muscle is stretched for a period of time two basic things happen in that muscle. Firstly it begins to relax and the secondly the muscle will increase in length

Take a consistent approach to stretching and I guarantee you’ll notice:

  • A rapid upgrade in your quality of movement
  • Muscle visual aesthetics change
  • An ability to deal with stress
  • And most importantly overall improved vitality.

 

In the coming weeks, The Greenpost will publish workout structuring and refinement through video and informational blogs. Look out for this.

‘Keep the body guessing, constantly adapting, constantly progressing’

Author: Jake

Bringing you this article, Jake combines his 15 years of expertise in integrated nutrition and fitness to provide his insights on matters of substance.

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