Improper Stretching, A Waste Of Mind

Leave the first response January 27, 2009 / Posted in Mindful Running, Oz on Injuries

Date: 17 Feb 1998 03:25:48 GMT
Organization: Int’l Association of Marathoners

HI Ozzie,

I posted this last week but my news reader doesn’t seem to get all messages at times and I’m left wondering who said what in the missing holes. A weight bearing muscle cannot stretch…just another morsel for thought. Ozzie, you really got me thinking about this.

One of my favorite stretches is one I do after running and my calves seem to thank me the next morning. I stand with just my toes on a stair tread facing the stairs. I slowly lower my heels then raise up on my toes. I can’t imagine that most of the muscles in my calve area do not bear weight during this, yet I believed that I’ve been stretching all this time. Could you explain the mechanics involved. Thanks, Steve

First let me give you a la Aaron Mattes some stretches which he feels are contraindiated or questionable stretching techniques.

Your muscles lengthen (antagonist) and are stretched more easily when the opposite muscle group (agonist) contracts/shortens (concentric contradctions) and moves the joint in a shortening contraction (flexion). This lengthening of the antagonist muscles and its connective tissues is done without any active tension.

A word about eccentric contractions (called a lengthening contraction). Eccentric contractions are the gradulal releasing of the concentric contractions. An example of eccentric contraction would be you lowering yourself slowly from the balls (concentric contraction of gastrocs and soleus lifted you onto the balls of the feet) of the feet back down to the floor.

The confusion about eccentric or lengthening contractions is the misinformation which “lengthening contraction” communicates. In most cases the muscles (which have been contracted) don’t actually lengthen, they simply return from their shortened (concentric contraction) to their normal resting/tonic length.

The awareness here is that when you stretch a muscle you are going beyond eccentric contraction. If a muscle is performing a lengthening contraction is is going back to its normal resting length. In a stretch of that same muscle you have gone beyond its eccentric contraction and now that muscle has to be in a relaxed state.

Mattes talks about endangering the myotatatic (stretch) reflex which protects the muscles. He sees this actions and the holding of a stretch position for more than 1.5 to 2 seconds causing the muscles being lengthened beyond their tonic/normal resting length to receive greater tension.

Remember you’ve gone beyond the stretch reflex because you’re now straining/stretching muscles to their normal elongation. Now it becomes a danger to the muscle fibers being forcefully elongated.

Now going back to you Steve standing with your heels off the tread of the step. You are lowering yourself so that your heels are now below the horizontal of the step. If you understand the above, then you’ve gone beyond your stretch reflex and the muscle, gastrocs/soleus which you are stretching are being strained under the weight of your entire gravitational body force.

If there are knots in the soleus or gastrocs, (fascia wrapped tightly around portions of those muscles which were injured through overuse or being overstretched…and contracted to protect themselves from further injury), you are overstretching/straining good muscle fiber that when overstretched can be damaged. The end result of this good feeling stretch is that there will come a day when you will say, stretching doesn’t work because you have a calf muscle which is almost totally bound up with fascia which like a tourniquet will not allow the muscle to move through its full range of motion (rom).

As John Jesse noted: Fascia has a strong tendendcy to contract due to age, chilling, poor posture, injury to the muscle it surrounds, and muscular imbalance. Contraction of fascia reduces the range of movement in body joints. You can begin to see why fascial release which is practiced by Rolfers and people of similar techniques works so well to assist someone get back to better balance and fuller range of motion by allowing those adhesions to be loosened from where they are holding unnecessarily to other fascia/muscles and bone.

Something I’ll mention but won’t go into fully since I don’t comprehend it enough to fully explain is the reality of “The Kinetic Chain.”

In movement there is a chain of nerve firings which take place at various moments in the movement of any body part. You probably have seen those machines which takes a person through the ROM of a joint so that when healing from surgery on that joint, there is no binding up of the surrounding muscles and tendons. In walking/running when the muscles within the chain of movement reach the correct position, the nerves fire to set in motion the next part of the chain. Simply by putting your muscles under an intense stretch, you can interfere with the normal firing of nerves in those muscles so that the normal, graceful body movement is impaired.

There is an elementalism which invades exercise physiology and kineseology. The tendency is to look at each element and break it down into further and further micromovements. In stretching you can see the same problem, like looking at the stretch of the muscle you are doing on the step.

Isn’t it interesting that the very words “Physiology of Exercise” and “kineseology” address the body in movement. It teaches what happens in movement but it’s easier to post to rec.running and ask what other individuals have experienced…and with no sense of what the plantar fascia, or peroneus, or agonist/antagonist, or what is the normal range of motion of a particular joint, or becoming mindful of doing things right/correctly…of going slow to go fast, of realizing that running is one of the most graceful dances which man can do…when it is done correctly…and that is measured by lack of injury over time.

Hopefully that gives you some ideas to think further about.

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