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To Stretch – Part 1

In addition to running the Stay Active Clinic, I am the beginner program director of CrossFit Asheville. The following post and the follow-ups t

o come were originally written for CrossFit Asheville. Follow the link to see questions/answers/comments related to the article:

This is the first part to a series on stretching, or more specifically, on making parts of your body move easier in order to improve fitness.

First we have to understand WHY we stretch. Simply put, it makes us better and safer athletes.

Stretching makes you better – Certain positions give us a better opportunity to gain a mechanical advantage. When push pressing, if you push the bar away from your face it is further from the center of gravity and the leverage required to move the bar upward increases, making the lift harder. We are consistently correcting the positions of your feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, elbows, and wrists in order for you to maximize the mechanical advantage on a movement. Having your knees in line with your feet allow proper length of the hip musculature to keep your torso upright. Having your shoulder girdle in the proper position allows you to impart the most force on the bar in a push press. This makes you a better athlete.

Stretching makes you safer – The body is injured when certain tissues become overloaded. If tight areas of your body cause your movements to miss a good position, you can overload another area. This is referred to as restriction and compensation. A restriction is an area of decreased load because of abnormal tension and a compensation is the resulting area of excessive load and can lead to injury. By being in an optimal position you can balance much of the force over multiple tissues and joints, thus making you a safer athlete.

In order to know what “stretching” is we have to understand some basic function of muscle shortening/lengthening and the role of other connective tissues.

Your muscles are wrapped and threaded with tissue called fascia. As the muscle reaches the end of it’s length, this fascia becomes a tendon tha

t then connects to the bone. But part of the tendon then becomes the periosteum, a covering over the bone. This periosteum continues and eventually becomes the tendon of another muscle. When a muscle shortens, it pulls on the bone and the joint is capable of moving.

As a joint moves the fascia of surrounding muscles is meant to slide past other muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. When this occurs, healthy control of the joint is possible.

There are two limitations to flexibility that must be accounted for. One is neurological limitation, the other is mechanical limitation.

1) Neurological limitation – Your brain sends motor (movement) nerves down your spinal cord out to multiple parts of each muscle. On these nerves travel signals telling that section of muscle whether to shorten or lengthen. If enough sections of muscle are told to shorten that muscle will pull on the two ends of bone it attaches to. If I hold my arm out straight ahead of me and then bend my elbow by shortening my elbow flexors and someone then pulls in the other direction, it can appear that I have “tight” elbow flexors. Really, this is just neurological tension. We can reduce this tension in some cases, and it can happen pretty quickly.

2) Mechanical limitation – This refers to the mechanical length/shape of all the connective tissues in the body. Joints are a certain shape, muscles are a certain length, and the lack of slide of muscles/nerves/blood vessels are all mechanical issues that can limit flexibility. However, these are LIVING tissues and as such, will respond accordingly to forces placed on them. We can change this, but it takes a little more time.

Each method of stretching for tissues attempts to account for one or both of these limitations. I will get into further discussion of how these limitations develop, what the limitations do to our training, and what to do when limited by one or both of these.

For Part II click here.

For Part III click here.

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