Today’s guest post was written by Peak Performance intern Ali Crowder. Ali is a sophomore at MSU majoring in Biology.
The importance of exercise for strength, endurance, and overall health is usually common knowledge, but people often forget just how crucial muscle stretching is. A lack of proper stretching can cause injuries to joints, tendons, muscles, etc., and an overall stiffness. Many careers involve hours of sitting, and very little moving around, which can harm our muscles and tissues. To avoid harm and tight muscles, stretching comes into play. Our muscles need to be stretched to their normal length. Before you start stretching, your joints must be able to move normally. Stretching should not be felt in the joints, only the muscles.
Passive stretching, or controlled, gradual stretching is one where you assume a position and hold it. This form of stretching is useful in therapy to heal an injury, and also good for cooling down after a workout. However, passive stretching can use much improvement.
Often times, patients are not educated on proper exercise and stretching form, and may not know the muscle group(s) that should be affected with each exercise or stretch. The hamstring stretch (below, left), for example could possibly lack a safe and stable starting position. During a proper hamstring stretch, the hip should be hinged forward to feel the stretch in the back of the thigh, pelvis tilted forward, knee straight.
Stretching with proper pelvic alignment
Stretching without proper pelvic alignment
If proper form is not maintained throughout the stretch, the stretch becomes ineffective. Also notice in the picture of the hamstring stretch, the patient’s pelvis is tilted backward. This type of stretching makes it difficult to maintain proper form throughout the duration of the stretch. Refined proper technique focuses on each separate muscle or muscle group.
Proper static stretching includes safe and stable starting positions. The real function of the muscles or muscle groups being stretched must always be taken into account and the whole exercise must be fully controlled. Muscle groups must be stretched in such a way that they are lengthened as near as possible to normal range of motion.
Proper stretching then automatically becomes effective stretching.
The above example of the hamstrings stretch looks very different with proper technique. Notice the patient’s leg extended backward keeps the pelvis tilted forward. There is no room for patient error here because of the stable starting position. The forward tilt of the pelvis during proper stretching allows the hamstrings to stretch further than in the alternative stretch.
Proper Stretching technique should be applied to all other muscle groups as well, especially muscles that cross 2 joints. Some examples of these include the gastrocnemius (calf), quad (rectus femoris), triceps, biceps, inner thigh (adductors), and hip flexors (iliopsoas). Stable starting positions will ensures the stretch is safe and effective, and prevents further injury to the patient.