Updated: Oct 4, 2021
Stretching exist in almost every sport you can think of. It is a technique for improving passive range of motion, relax tight muscles, and facilitate recovery, by increasing blood flow and fresh nutrients into the muscle.
But why do the muscles become tight in the first place?
“If you don’t use it, you lose it”
We are all born with the same amount of flexibility. However, some of us have more than others.
Our brain has an incredible ability to adapt. It is designed to be efficient with every task. Therefore, if we were born with 100 % flexibility, but use only 50 %, the brain is going to notice that and adapt, by setting the limit to 50. This limit is a pain response, triggered to prevent us from going beyond, an unsafe position. That is why it hurts when we stretch. The reality is that beyond that limit everything is safe. We just have to trick our brain, to set a new limit.
Let`s see an example of tight muscle and the problems it can cause.
Hamstrings consist of three muscles on the back of your thigh, attaching to the hip and knee. Its function is mainly to flex or bend the knee and posterior (backward) rotate the pelvic.
Whenever you sit, hamstrings must shorten to flex or bend the knee. The longer your hamstrings remain short (not in their fullest range of motion), the more your brain is going to think that that the rest is unneeded and is going to set a limit. That itself is going to cause problems in other areas of the body. Remember, one of the functions of the hamstrings was to rotate the pelvic backward. Well if you decrease the length of the hamstrings, your pelvic is going to remain in this backward position. That is going to eliminate the natural curve of the lower back (lumbar spine), by weakening the muscles there and is going to put it in an unsafe position any time you lift stuff from the ground, standing up for a long time, or just sit, for that matter. This is why a lot of chairs or car seats have lumbar support. A bump designed to force your lower back to its safe curve. (temporary relief, but not a permanent fix).
Here are two pictures to help you understand what happens when hamstrings are short and why it is causing a lot of problems to the lower back any time we lift.
Luckily, there is a way to fix that and it does not require anything else than motivation.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular facilitation. PNF stretch.
There are many types of stretching, but I found that PNF is one of the most effective once. Let me explain.
PNF stretch was initially invented and used in clinical rehabilitation. Its great effect on flexibility, later on, brought it to the mainstream gyms and it has been used since, among athletes, personal trainers, and coaches.
The way PNF works is simple. Using both active and passive moments of the muscle, it initially confuses the brain and the nervous system, causing it to relax the muscle and therefore increase its range of motion. like reprograming the brain to move the limit, a bit higher. It can be used for almost any muscle group. At anytime, anywhere.
There are few different methods for performing PNF stretch, however, for this blog, I am going to explain the one that is the easiest, and of course… it targets the hamstrings.
Find a resistant band, rope, or even a cloth that is long enough. A partner can help, as long as you communicate well.
1. Lay on the ground, and lift the leg straight, with the help of the rope, until you feel stretch and slight discomfort. NOT PAIN, DISCOMFORT! Try to relax the entire leg and glutes. If you do it with a partner, communicate well so he/she does not push more than he/she should. Hold this position for 30 seconds.
2. Keeping the leg straight, squeeze and push down towards the ground. Resist with the band. Hold for 10 seconds.
3. Relax and pull the leg again, for another 30 seconds.
Repeat 3 or 4 times.
You will notice that every time you pull, the leg is going to go a bit further, which is an indication that the stretch is successful. You will also notice a relief of tension and more tone in that area.
Improve your flexibility, improve your lifestyle, improve your health, and enjoy the activities, pain-free.