To stretch or not to stretch?
Below is a list of the most common stretching myths that have been disproven by science in the last decades. Stretching research has shown that:
Stretching feels good to a lot of people (including me). Also, even though research has shown that it does not reduce muscle soreness; a lot of people report the opposite. In my experience, sometimes it does, other times it doesn’t. Very often, I just have a strong urge to stretch. It feels as if its an annoying neurological itch I just have to scratch in order to feel better. Stretches such as toe touches for hamstrings, as well as stretching muscles like the gluteus medius and piriformis in a lying position almost feels as good as a professional massage.
Still, the exact science of these feelings and what might only be physiological in nature, is not yet clear in the academic world.
Here is my recommendation for stretching with HomeMade Muscle. Stretch when you feel like it and specifically, focus on the muscles that feel tight. There is no need to over-stretch your joints that are already too flexible. Doing this, for no specific reason (like being a martial artist) and without professional acquiescence might even cause hyper-mobility related problems. Avoid stretching intensely before working out. If you have the urge, just gently stretch whatever feels tight for a brief 5-10 seconds and do it a bit dynamically instead of completely statically.
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I personally believe there is more to stretching than what has been discovered up until now, and in the future it will find its place in exercise science. Until then, I still like to stretch whenever it feels right. Stretching also helps me relax mentally. If you would like to dive more into the whole scientific analysis of stretching, I highly recommend you read Paul Ingraham’s amazing article, “Quite a Stretch.” Say hello to him from me if you pass by his website and leave a comment.
Here are some of my favorite stretches…
1. Doorway Chest & Shoulder Stretch. Stand under the middle of a doorway with one foot straddling the threshold and your hands gripping the inside of the doorway, on each side. Shift your weight on the forward foot until you feel a pull in your shoulders and chest. Keep your hands at chest height, first to focus more on the chest. After that, place your hands just above your shoulder’s height, to focus more on your anterior deltoids (front part of the shoulder). To isolate arms separately, face your body a bit towards the opposite side of the arm you want to focus on.
Desk Stretch for Lats and Chest. You can use your desk, a windowsill, a kitchen counter or any kind of ledge about waist high. Sit on your knees, bend over and place your hands on the surface just a bit wider than shoulder width. Gently lower your torso until you feel the stretch on your lats and chest. You can also isolate one arm at a time.
Hamstring stretch with bike tube. Using again the bike tube, an elastic band, or even a wide belt, lie on your back, keep your left leg on the floor and bend your right leg so that your foot rests flat on the floor. Loop your elastic band around the upper part of your right foot, holding onto an end of the band with each hand. Straighten your knee and pull the leg slowly towards your chest. You will feel in a stretch in the whole back area of your right leg. Pull your leg really slow so you don’t end up straining your hamstrings or anything else. Do the same for the other leg. This stretch is ideal for people with a sedentary lifestyle where these muscles tend to be quite tight.
Piriformis & Gluteus Medius Stretch. Lie on your back, legs extended along the floor, right arm resting on the floor straight out to the side. Bring your right knee in toward your chest and very gently clasp the knee with your left hand, then gradually pull the knee over toward the floor, keeping your right arm and shoulder flat on the floor. You should feel a stretch in the hip and lower back. This can help relax muscles that cause back pain and get tight when you spend a lot of time sitting (office jobs etc).
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