MAKING FLEXIBILITY A TREATMENT, A HABIT, A ROUTINE
It can feel like every practitioner recommends stretching. It can be likened to the repeated suggestion of flossing from the dental hygienist at your annual visit in that it can seem like an all too common suggestion, which can unfortunately dilute its’ value. However, flexibility is a topic worth discussing because of how it impacts our movement, posture, pain and ability to recover from problems or injuries.
Like flossing your teeth, doing daily flexibility work is both therapeutic and preventative.
It would be fair to say that flexibility (or lack thereof!) is a subject of conversation in over 90% of our clients’ assessments at SoleFit. In modern western culture, we face a daily struggle to dodge stiffness to our joints and soft tissues because we perform the SAME movement patterns with our bodies all too often. Our current environment presents many of us with the risk of overuse and underuse. We ask too much of one position, for example sitting: this creates restrictions in the neck, shoulders, spine, hips and even feet….whew! This creates both an overuse of some muscles and a corresponding underuse of other muscles which ‘puts them to sleep.’ What’s the end result? Tightness, stiffness, decreased strength, increased tension, and limited joint range.
A tight muscle is a weak muscle because its inability to lengthen compromises its ability to contract. A tight muscle will limit the amount of movement available to a joint i.e. tight quadriceps create a stiff knee joint. A tight muscle also increases the risk of pain and damage from tearing under increased demand. Like an elastic band that is dried up, our muscles can lose their strong elastic qualities which can result in a lack of strength and function. Muscles count on movement to provide them with a host of benefits:
So, while we want to avoid hearing the same old adage again of “you should stretch…do these stretches’, let’s talk about the ways to stay flexible without making it all about stretching and make boring old flexibility more accessible and interesting.
BREAK AWAY FROM TYPICAL PATTERNS
What’s the best movement for humans? The next one.
Compare the variety of movement you perform daily to the act of taking a multivitamin or greens powder to boost the nutrition in your diet. Movement is nutrition to your muscles and joints. Too much of any one thing can be an overdose (damn you desk job!). The more variety you provide to the body, the better the body responds to any demands. If we can vary our day to include more positions, we have a wider ‘bandwidth’ for our muscle and joint to function. How can you do this?
MINIMUM EFFECTIVE DOSE
A little done often has longer lasting impacts than a lot done every so often.
It’s easy to lose a client’s interest in the recommendation to work on their flexibility when they picture 60 minutes of stretches needing to be performed. While an hour long yoga class ONCE per week can be helpful it doesn’t have the same lasting effects on adaptation for the body compared to small amounts performed daily.
Let’s look at the physiological premise called the SAID principle (Specific Adaptation (to) Imposed Demands). What this means is that the body will adapt to any/most things we ask of it (for better or worse) if we make the request often enough. Therefore, if we stretch everyday the request happens often enough to create changes. So, if someone were to stretch 5-10 minutes everyday, this would out perform a 60 minute yoga class conducted once per week!
As busy individuals it can be hard to fit these best habits in. This is why the minimum effective dose is so helpful. Its strategy asks ‘what is the least amount of stimulus needed to get the desired response.’ To this effect, trying a small but daily administration of performing basic stretches or simple yoga can have a profound long lasting result. Especially if you’re focusing on stretching the areas that really need it the most!
STRETCHING AFTER TRAINING MAY NOT BE ENOUGH
When we ask our clients whether they stretch, the answer is often “after I work out/run/exercise etc.”
Controversy and conflicting opinions of the ‘best time to stretch’ can leave many people confused as to what is worth doing or not. Let’s try to clarify some basics regarding this subject.
Exercise, while good for us, is a stressor. Training with intensity means we put a higher than normal demand on the body which causes tissues to break down, followed by a need for repair and regrowth. It also puts a demand on our nervous system which causes a post-exercise effect of fatigue, soreness, lowered response time, and lowered level of ability for a period of a couple of days. When we are in these fatigued states we tend to experience muscle tension, soreness and joint restriction.
Stretching right after a workout can be beneficial to help with faster recovery in some. However, it doesn’t address the limited movement we tend to have during the rest of our sedentary day that regular flexibility work can help counteract.
Now, stretching right after a workout has been shown to help reduce the effect of the fatigue/tension reflex from the nervous system and so can help with faster recovery in some. However, it doesn’t address the limited movement we tend to have during the rest of our sedentary day that regular flexibility work can help counteract. So, quite often, we aren’t recommending our clients stretch because they exercise, but rather to stay flexible in order to be able to exercise with better movement quality.
PUTTING FLEXIBILITY WORK INTO PRACTICE
The above establishes that there are ways to move throughout the day to help protect, preserve and improve our flexibility. In addition, we can perform small amounts of groundwork to provoke longer lasting change rather than needing an extreme commitment to a stretching practice. But if stretching was being applied, what are some ways to do it? We have added a downloadable PDF here for your benefit of a program of simple static stretches and the tips to practicing them.
There are many forms of stretching that can easily be researched out there (or even better check with a health care professional), and individuals can see what fits their personal needs or ability levels:
Learning and developing a habit of stretching puts an individual in the driver’s seat to help them correct imbalances, address pain in muscles or joints, and improve overall movement quality in both the short and long term. It remains a near constant recommendation to our clients. Flexibility conditioning is a process that needs continued attention in the modern age. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so give it time, attention and patience. This results in the opportunity for flexibility to be a major player in comfort, freedom and longevity in the activities throughout your life.