It isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Think about this…
True statement: If we are all unique and built a little bit differently and have a unique training and life history and a lifestyle that is entirely our own, then why on earth would we think that we could answer the question, “should we stretch,” with a one-size fits all answer?
We’re all unique. Therefore, what we might need to stretch and how much, is unique for each of us.
This then begs the question…
What’s our goal?
What IS the goal of stretching anyway? I believe that’s one of those very good questions to ask. If we’re going to do it, then at the very least, we ought to know where it is we are going with it, right? Where are we heading, and why?
Let’s start with that question: what is our goal when we stretch?
Three potential benefits (there may be more)
I see three obvious potential benefits to stretching any part of our body, depending on the individual person.
The first is simple: to feel better. Sometimes stretching just feels good. That does not mean that it’s always good for us, especially long term, but you know, sometimes it just feels good…
The second reason would be to counteract some of the inherent tightness that might develop because of our lifestyle or sports. Some classic examples of this might be…
Stretching out some “tightness” or “shortness” in the calf or hamstring muscle groups (otherwise known as the “posterior chain”) that would result from an increasing higher volume of faster paced running. If you’ve bumped up your mileage recently or increased the percentage of faster running, you know exactly what I’m talking about – you feel it in your hamstrings.
Stretching out the quadriceps and other anterior hip flexor muscles in response to an increasing number of miles in the saddle. Or similarly, in a chair at our desks or from long hours of driving.
The point here is that there is often a natural (arguably less-than-desirable) shortening and thus tightening of certain areas of the body because of chronic or acute over-use.
This is especially apparent with activities that are very repetitive like running or cycling. By repetitive, I simply mean that you’re basically using the same muscles in the same patterns repeatedly, with very little variation. For these sports, we’re talking about thousands of revolutions over a short period of time. It adds up!
What about the third reason?
The last and arguably most important reason that anyone might want to stretch is to improve tissue (or body) balance.
By balance, I don’t mean standing on a bosu ball with your eyes closed and not crashing to the floor. 😊 I’m referring to a balance of tissue lengths – front and back, side to side, inside and outside.
When imbalances in tissue length exist, certain areas get overused and others get underused. The imbalances, if left untreated, become habituated – a new and different way to move, if you will.
Here’s a classic example: look at the picture to the left.
You sure as heck don’t want to end up looking like THAT, do you? No way.
So, follow me here for a minute – think of some of your daily activities – things like looking at your smartphone or staring into the computer or reaching into a cabinet for something to eat. You know, repeatedly reaching in front of your body, leaning forward, but conversely, rarely reaching behind your body or back for something.
Over time, what can happen?
The muscles that are overused in the front can become gradually tighter and shorter, while the muscles in the back become lengthened, and potentially weaker as well.
This isn’t necessarily about saying one posture is better than another, but it is acknowledging that with an imbalance like this, the risk of problems down the road is increased. So, here’s a situation where stretching the front of the body while strengthening the back is the exact kind of thing you want to do.
Of course, it so happens that two extremely important exercises for accomplishing these tasks are included in the program, RESTORE- The Foundation: The Wall Slide and Chin Tuck exercises. 😊
In my experience, it is these imbalances that most often manifest themselves when we get injured, and not surprisingly, can dramatically increase our risk of injury.
Hence, why I made this area of the website available to you…
What to do?
In summary, my point in sharing the above is to state what I hope is now obvious: flexibility and stretching isn’t a one-size fits all kind of thing. Sure, we can stretch to feel good, but if we truly want to address imbalances and give our stretching program the meat it needs to bring about true change, we need to be targeted in what we do and how we do it.
We need to know WHAT areas are most important to lengthen for us – not for someone else, but for us individually.