Now, if I told you up front what the subject of this post is I can easily say that a number of people would run from their computer!
Yes, I’m talking about s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g. Stretching has to be THE most underused tool in most athlete’s and fitness enthusiast’s bag of tricks. Does it trump nutrition in importance? Noooo, I wouldn’t go that far but let’s understand some fundamental things about your body.
OK, so this is about as unscientific an explanation as you can get but…
Your body has a structure (your bones) and this structure is held together at a variety of points (joints) by a spectacular system of connectors (ligaments and muscles). For the structure to be supported properly and to move properly, the connectors must be supple and strong. Ligaments need movement to get the nutrients they require for their greatest ability and well-being. “Motion is Lotion” may sound corny but it is all too true. Muscles get nutrients through an intricate system of arteries, veins, and capillaries which carry nutrients to the cells and dispose of waste but ligaments have a far poorer exchange mechanism and require motion to encourage that mechanism.
Furthermore, each of your muscles has an optimal length at which it can produce optimal force. It’s analogous to a guitar string being able to produce a specific note – too little slack and the note is high, too much slack and the note is too low. For our muscles to be truly effective they need to operate at the proper length and simply exercising to produce greater strength will not overcome the deficiencies of shortened, tight muscles. Have you ever met someone who looks fairly typical – no bulging muscles, possibly even slight of build and yet they are tremendously strong? It’s a good bet that their muscle fibers are all firing as they should and without great bulk producing great force.
So, on to the topic of how to get there – read this book: “Stretching Anatomy” by Arnold G. Nelson and Juoko Kokkonen. It’s kind of “techy” and may not be the most exciting of reads but boy does it show great stretches and wonderful explanations of stretching technique. The illustrations show external and internal views of the body and the authors give precise identification of which muscles are involved. Too much information for some? Yes, but you’ll likely find your understanding of how your body works expanding with each read. Don’t skip the introduction of the book – it’s short but very helpful. Once you’ve done that, dive right in and read about a portion of your body that you know needs help – Oh, I’ll hazard a guess and say…hamstrings, for example, and follow the instructions on how to bring more length to these often neglected muscles.
I guarantee (IF you actually DO the stretches consistently) that you’ll find relief from many aches and pains and you’ll enjoy sports more and possibly even create a sense of well-being in the world. OK, that last one might be a bit much but give it a read and give it a try.
There’s so much more to say about stretching, but for now let’s borrow from Nike and say “Just Do it” (with some well-done instruction by Messrs Nelson and Kokkonen).