Stretching for optimal performance?

Why should you do stretching? Do you really know why you should stretch? And if so, which kind of muscles are important to be stretched?

Today there is a big discussion going on at the subject. Some say that stretching is good for you and can prevent injury because muscles don't snap when they are longer and more flexible.
This has been the general view for a long time now.
Recently some scientists and has come up with the idea that stretching doesn't reduce injury or even make things better. They say that it's not worth the effort and hard work, when there's no need after all.

For many athletes, this is just what they wanna hear when they're sweating their but of trying to get their splits. They stop their stretching completely and from that point only rely on strength training.
In my oppinion, if you are an athlete and want to prevent yourself from getting injured, YOU HAVE TO STRETCH. People often migrate towards activities they are good at, and I know lots of people who’s not very flexible say "That's no problem, it doesn't really matter anyway". But it does.

There are of course many different approaches and different kinds of sport which all have their different demands on how flexible an athlete should be. ex. a gymnast require a higher flexibility than a soccer player but still the soccer player still have to stretch some muscles if he want to stay in the game. The demands of flexibility of the soccer player is obviously much smaller that it is of a gymnast and the soccer player doesn't have to master full splits !

In other words peoples flexibility demands are different and we don't all need the flexibility of a yoga master. You do, however still need a certain level of flexibility, which many people lack, in order to prevent injuries, balancing your body, and to obtain a nice posture. On top of that, you will, as a traceur, achieve grace and beauty in your movements, which I think is something that has been forgotten by many peolpe today.

There are still some people out there performing their stretches - which is good.
Unfortunately, many of them don’t know much about the basics and keeps on doing the same exercises they’re used to.
In order to prevent injury, there should be a balance between these to basic kinds of muscles.

Tonic (postural muscles)
Phasic (mover muscles)

These two differs in the way they are used. When exposed to faulty loading they react opposite of each other. The Tonic muscles become hyperactive or workaholics and tend to tighten and become shorter. The Phasic muscles do the opposite, they become longer and weaker when exposed to the same kind of stress (which is just as bad as muscles that are too short).

An example of the tonic muscles is the hamstrings, neck, shoulders, chest and both calf muscles - they often tend to tighten
An example of Phasic muscles is the abdominals (specially the deep ones), the butt and the hips - they often tend to weaken
Muscles always work together in groups and never in isolation!!!
That means that if one muscle is too tight, it will dominate the others in the group and disrupt the natural movement of the joint and create an imbalance in the body.

Paul Chek makes a great comparison in his book "Eat, move and be healthy" where he compares a muscle imbalance to a bent and unstable wheel. Imagine the stress of riding a bicycle with such a wheel. It will get the wheel to fall apart in the long run.
If you want to ride you bicycle with a balanced wheel, you must tighten the loose muscles and loosen the tight ones. It's as simple as that.

I very often see traceurs with bad posture, and if your not one of them - you probably know one or seen one in a video.
Bad posture is a result to muscles imbalances in the body.
If you have bad posture, you muscles can’t effectively pump fluids through your body which will certainly leed to injury in the long run. Especially for a traceur who frekvently puts his body under big pressure!

The point with this is article is simply, to make people understand the importance of stretching and that stretching should be something prior to strenght! It means that if are stiff as a board - you should strongly consider doing more stretches that strenght to balance out your unstable wheel of a body.
You cannot build anything strong on a weak foundation!
Stretching should not be a burden - and you don’t have to be a yoga-master. You should just pay extra attention to the muscles in your body that are really tight - not just your legs.

Muslces that are often forgotten are: Neck, chest, shoulders, back, abdominals, lower back, hips, groin, calfs, butt, IT bands, harmstrings and quads.

Try to incorporate some new stretches, and don’t get the habit to only do the ones you’re good at. The tighter the muscle is - the more it’s proberbly in need to be stretched!

Sources: “How to eat move and be healthy” by paul check
“What to Stretch – What to Strengthen” by Stephen Holt


Stephen Holt said...

Wow, I get to be cited as a "source" with Paul Chek. Thanks! I hope you enjoyed my article. - Stephen

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