How to Stretch Better and Safer

To stretch or not to stretch? Everyone has to stretch to maintain good posture, improve our bio-mechanics and help prevent injury. There is a lot of debate about the benefits of stretching, what is the best type of stretching but these arguments are aimed primarily at the sporting world. Even if you’re not a sports enthusiast you must stretch to maintain a healthy range of motion in our spine and our joints.

Do you actually know how to stretch properly or what you are stretching? Before I studied physical therapy I stretched because I played a lot of sport and I wanted to avoid injury. Did I actually know what I was doing, nope, not a clue. I just copied what everybody else was doing because I had no idea about muscle anatomy. Every muscle has an origin and insertion – this means it attaches from one point on a bone to another point on the same bone or a different bone. For example did you know your hamstrings attach below your knee and your calves above your knee? In order to get more out of your stretching routine it would help if you knew a little bit about what you are stretching. If you want to be more effective with your stretching, think about moving the attachments further away from one another.

For example, we all have tight chest muscles, the pectorals, due to poor posture and poor exercise routines. How many of you know how to stretch your ‘pecs’ or know what you are trying to achieve when doing so? Same as above, moving one attachment point further away than the other. Have a look at the image below – this is the anatomy of the pectorals muscles.

Notice that one attachment site covers the collarbone (clavicle), the breast bone (sternum) and the ribs. Let’s call this the ‘origin’. Have another look at the image – notice the muscle attaches into the upper arm. This is the ‘insertion’. So what is it you have to do to stretch the pectorals effectively – move the arm further away from the chest or vice-versa. The image below is a good example on how to do just that.

 

Notice how the man in the picture is rotating his chest and upper body (remember, the ‘origin’) away from the upper arm (the ‘insertion’) creating a stretch! The very same thing applies to all muscle stretching. Move the origin further away from the insertion.

Typical stretching guidelines are to hold a stretch for 10 – 30 seconds. I’m probably a bit more unconventional when it comes to these guidelines and think beyond just muscle stretching. The connective tissue, fascia is also responsible for our flexibility issues but that is a whole new post to follow soon! Happy stretching 😉

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