Nordic Balance at the In and Out

Do we really need to stretch?

Blog post   •   Nov 23, 2011 15:58 GMT

The individual subjective perception of people’s health fascinates me. There are so many factors that affect how we see ourselves and think what’s good for us. Nowadays there’s so much public information available that it might just become confusing. We start believing in what media tell us instead of listening to our own bodies and intuition. Our ability to select the information that’s given to us can also be pretty amazing. Somehow we hear what we prefer to hear and conveniently tend to forget advice that is hard to comply with.

Over my years of instructing exercise I observed an interesting phenomenon. It seems that mostly those people who are very mobile tend to enjoy stretching and those who are stiff avoid it as much as they can. We often feel encouraged to continue activities that we are good at, but when we recognize lack of skills for certain activities we abandon them all together. This kind of achievement motivation is fantastic and could be used with great benefits. When we decide to specialize in something, we choose a sporting event that we have the best chances to excel in. However, what I’m talking about now is a slightly different matter.

In a general health & fitness context, where the aim of training is to create physical balance and life-lasting optimal function, my advice would be to limit any comfort zone training and rather target your weaker parts. Of course the individual factors and needs may vary but quite frequently those very flexible guys needn’t really stretch so much and instead should focus on gaining stability and strength. On the other hand, any flexibility training would be great for the less supple population.

Stretching doesn’t need to be boring. We can actively stretch one part of the body as we work its opposite side. There are many effective ways to lengthen muscle tissue and they could be both, pleasant and fun.  Understanding of the reasons why you stretch will help you to choose the methods fit for purpose.

 

Passive Stretching can be an easy way to lengthen soft tissues and relax the mind. You can stretch passively by sustaining a gentle force on the body segment by using gravity or with help from someone else. This kind of stretching should not be painful. Patiently wait at the first resistance point until it becomes softer and you’ll be able to increase the range. You can continue holding the stretch for as long as you like, but the usual recommendation is 30-60 seconds. Note that passive stretching is not ideal just before explosive activities as it could temporarily impair your power and strength.

Active Stretching is when you use the action of one muscle to stretch its antagonist (a muscle on the opposite side). In fact we continue to actively stretch our bodies throughout the day in every movement. In training however we do that with a greater effect. Active stretching can make a part of your exercise routine or a warm-up. It can be very functional (mimic movements of your daily activities or sport) and also may be a wonderful way to kick start a day.

Assisted Stretching includes all types of stretching with another person’s help. This type of stretching is often used in physical therapies where it can help release tightness that’s hard to target by patients on their own.

PNF (Prioprioceptive Neural Facilitation) Stretching takes advantage of our knowledge about peculiar behavior of nerves that supply muscles. It is usually done by a trained professional, can be very interactive, and could effectively improve tissue length and tone.

Just as any other component of fitness, flexibility is very specific. Adaptations to stretching will only occur in the treated areas. Type of training, nature of day-to-day activities, genetics, and environmental factors would all affect a person’s mobility. Moreover, different parts of the body might have different characteristics. One can have mobile shoulders and at the same time very stiff hips. A relevant stretching and strengthening exercise programme should aim to target your very own specific needs and facilitate a healthy balance for life.

Enjoy your healthy body!