Basics of Stretching

Please read this page before doing any of the stretches shown.


Basics    Arms     Back/Abdomen     Ball     Chest    Feet    Hands     Hips     Neck    Shoulders    Thigh

Before we get into talking about stretching, we need to know a few basic things about muscles.  There are 3 types of muscle tissue in the human body: visceral, cardiac and skeletal.  We will only be talking about skeletal muscles here.  Skeletal muscles are broken into 2 categories: Postural and Phasic.  Postural muscles are muscles that help hold your posture.  Phasic muscles don't hold your posture. To oversimplify this and make it easier... phasic muscles are muscles of the hand, forearm, and arm.  Postural muscles are the muscles in the rest of the body.  Postural muscles use their energy more efficiently and can hold a contraction longer than phasic muscles.  For this reason, when stretching postural muscles you need to hold the stretch longer.

When you begin to stretch a muscle, any muscle, that muscle responds by contracting.  It's called the 'stretch reflex'.  It's a protection mechanism built into your body.  In order to really stretch a muscle, you need to hold a stretch until the muscle uses up its energy and can't hold the contraction of the stretch reflex any longer.  If you are stretching your hamstring, a postural muscle, and you hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds, the amount of time the average person holds a stretch, it really isn't doing anything since the stretch reflex of the hamstring is 30 to 45 seconds.

For Phasic muscles, you need to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds and preferably 1 to 2 minutes.

For Postural muscles, you need to hold the stretch for at least 1 minute and preferably 2 to 3 minutes.

There are many different types or styles of stretching.  The type I will be describing here is called Static Stretching.

It doesn't seem like it but stretching is very powerful and you can hurt yourself.  With that in mind, there are 2 things to remember:

Although stretching should never be painful... it does need to be slightly uncomfortable.  If it isn't, no change will occur.

Directions for stretching:

Any stretch of any muscle in the body should be done slowly and with control.  It's not a race to the finish. Stretching should be approached like meditation or yoga.  Slow, steady, relaxed, controlled.

Remember that you always have to keep the body in balance... if you stretch one arm... stretch the other arm too.  If you stretch one hip... stretch the other hip.  If you stretch the right side of your neck... stretch the left side of your neck.

When is the best time of day to stretch?

You have to remember that muscles are designed to contract.  That's what muscles do, so you have to stretch them after using them. Always stretch after exercising and if your muscles are in pain or discomfort, having spasms or cramping you should stretch before going to bed.  If you are only going to stretch once a day, make it at the end of the day.

Should I use ice or heat?

If your muscles are in pain or swollen use ice.  10 minutes on 10 minutes off.

If your muscles are sore or uncomfortable use heat.  20 minutes on, then stretch.

Can I combine therapeutic modalities?

Yes.  If your muscles are really tight you may want to heat them for 20 minutes, use an electric massager for 5 minutes and then stretch.

Why stretch at all?

First of all, stretching feels good but beyond that, it improves your flexibility and range of motion of joints. It reduces the chances of injury during activities and hastens recovery from injuries.  It improves your balance and improves your posture.  It increases blood flow to muscles, reducing soreness after exercising.  It reduces or eliminates pain due to muscles that are too tight either from using them or not using them or from stress-related tension.