Are you stretching?

Updated: Mar 2, 2018

As some of you may know I have been a massage therapist for almost 11 years now. I needed to take a much needed break from practicing for the last year because I experienced the dreaded "burn out" that massage therapists can endure. During my time off I completed a year program to be a certified Health Coach. Recently, I have decided to start practicing massage again on a very part time basis. I will be including all aspects of my knowledge and experience in massage therapy and how the body works, with my on line and one on one Health Coaching programs.

I have gained a lot of experience about the body and how it works and have had the privilege to work next to many experts in the field. These experts include Chiropractors, Physiotherapists and Sports Medicine Doctors.Today I will be focusing specifically on stretching a muscle or group of muscles.

First, are you stretching correctly?

Yes. You can actually pull a muscle by over stretching. Or if you are not holding it for the right amount of time/doing it correctly have zero to little impact.

Benefits of stretching your muscles:

  1. Stretching improves flexibility which then improves range of motion in the joints.

  2. Improves posture and stability around the joint which will increase over all well-being.

  3. Increases blood and nutrient supply to the muscles, tendons, cartilage and joints.

  4. Decreases risk of injuries.

  5. Reduces muscle soreness post work out.

How and when to safely stretch a muscle?

Before you start any work out it is important to "warm up" your muscles. You can do this by doing a short 5-10 minute jog, bike, jumping jacks. Anything low impact at a low intensity. Stretching your muscles post work out is necessary AND is the best time to do it. Post workout is the best time to stretch because the muscles are still warm and less resistant to stretching. This will reduce the chance of injuring a muscle and muscle soreness.

Let me try to give you a visual of what is happening physiologically within the muscle.

The muscles have fibers and the fibers run parallel (or beside each other) through out the length of the muscle (see pic above). When we exercise or perform general daily activities, we start to create small tears within the muscle (also known as scar tissue). Or people who sit at a desk all day with muscles in a constant shortened position.

When these tears happen, our muscles respond by creating cross fibers (like X's). These cross fibers develops muscle tone. This is a good thing, but it shortens the muscle and creates muscle tightness with less range of motion in the joint. This is when an injury can happen.

Just imagine this tight, shortened muscle, you go to pick something up quickly or move awkwardly, creating a fast movement and BOOM torn muscle! This short, tightened muscle is unstable and needs to be stretched and lengthed so this will not happen.

Steps to properly stretch a muscle:

  1. ALWAYS warm up the muscles pre work out for 5-10 minutes. This can be done by walking on a tread mill, jogging, riding a bike, cross trainer machine, jumping jacks, running in a spot, skip rope etc. If you are doing yoga this will be the sun salutations.

  2. After a work out, especially cross-training style, or anything lifting weights or using your body weight ALWAYS stretch AFTER the work out (while your muscles are still warm) for at least 5-10 minutes.

  3. Visualize the muscle or muscle group you will be stretching. For example if you are stretching your Quadriceps (group of muscles on front of the leg) see that part of your body in your minds eye before stretching.

  4. Take a deep breath in…..

  5. SLOWLY start to stretch the muscle you are stretching while breathing out. You will be going the opposite direction to when you had that muscle in a flexed position.

  6. Remember to keep taking deep slow breaths in and out and count to 30 for each stretch.

  7. Come out of the stretch and take a few seconds before going in again.

  8. Repeat 2 more times. Each time go a little further into the stretch. You want to stretch each muscle 3x holding for 30 seconds each time while breathing through the stretch. It takes at least 30 seconds holding a stretch for a muscle to stretch.

  9. Visit a Massage Therapist at least once a month for maintenance!! Yes your body is like car! If you don't take care of it, it will break down!