To Stretch Or Not To Stretch?

Many of my patients tell me: “Oh I go to yoga, and I stretch all the time, I don’t understand why I’m still so tight and why I still have pain!” Undoubtedly, this leads to great frustration. So let us talk about this.  

The Misconception About Stretches 

One of the most common misconceptions that people have about Mobility, is that it is all about stretching. Though stretching does have its place – it is not all Mobility is about! Most of my patients are already very flexible. The problem is that they are not strong. By this I am not referring to lifting weights in the gym – though that is an argument for another day. What I am referring to is the combination of flexibility and strength. That is Mobility.  

Think about it this way: each joint in our bodies can move in certain directions. Our muscles control this movement. When we talk about your Range of Motion (ROM), we refer to how far each of your joints can move. Let us look at hip ROM for instance. When you are doing a stretch for your hip flexors, you can move into the lunge position to a certain degree. At some point you will feel restricted by a tight, stretchy feeling in front of your hip. This is where your muscles tell you: “This is the furthest we are comfortable with.” Then your yoga instructor comes over and pushes you a little further, and at some point you will start to feel either pain in the hip or a fear-like feeling (called apprehension). This is where your muscles are telling you: “If you go further than this, we cannot control the joint anymore and we’re going to get injured.” The reason your muscles cannot control this range, is simple: they do not have the strength to do so.  

The Benefits of Mobility Training 

This is where mobility training comes in. It is essentially this: Going into that area where your muscles say “this is the most we are comfortable with, because after this we cannot control the joint anymore” – let us call this the Sweet Spot. In this sweet spot, we will perform strength-exercises. The next time we enter this range, your muscles will say: “oh, look! We actually feel quite confident here. You can go a little further this time” – and there you have won some range.  

Incorporating joint mobility work into your weekly sports routine can have numerous benefits for your body and overall athletic performance. Here are some advantages to consider: 

  1. Improved Range of Motion: Joint mobility exercises can help to improve your range of motion by increasing the flexibility of your joints, muscles, and connective tissues. This can lead to better athletic performance and reduce the risk of injury. 
  1.  Increased Joint Stability: Mobility work can also help to improve joint stability by strengthening the muscles surrounding the joint and improving the joint’s ability to move through its full range of motion. 
  1. Reduced Risk of Injury: Incorporating mobility work into your sports routine can help to reduce the risk of injury by improving your flexibility and joint stability. This can help to prevent common sports injuries such as strains, sprains, and joint dislocations. 
  1. Improved Balance and Coordination: Mobility exercises can also help to improve your balance and coordination by stimulating the nervous system and improving the communication between your brain and muscles. 
  1. Better Posture: Mobility work can help to improve your posture by reducing muscle imbalances and correcting any structural issues that may be contributing to poor posture. 
  1. Reduced Muscle Tension: Joint mobility exercises can help to reduce muscle tension by promoting relaxation and blood flow to the muscles. This can help to alleviate soreness and stiffness after workouts. 
  1. Improved Recovery: Incorporating mobility work into your sports routine can also help to improve your recovery time by reducing muscle soreness and promoting circulation to the muscles. 

So where does stretching come in then?  

In our article “How Your Hips Can Cause Back Pain” we were discussing a concept called ‘Creep’. Creep is essentially the shortening of your muscles over time spent in one position. Regardless of how strong you are in certain ranges; it is possible that your muscles become too short to allow the joint to go into those ranges. This is where stretching comes in. Stretching helps to lengthen our muscles and improve our flexibility.  

It is equally important to work on flexibility and strength. One without the other is like using a laptop without a charger. Or packing your charger but forgetting your laptop. You might look like you are halfway there, but in truth you are not going anywhere. That is the unfortunate truth – you could bend over backwards, but it would make no difference.  

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