Stretching the truth

 The Facts and Fiction behind Stretching Revealed

The purpose of this article is to inform those who consider passive stretching a necessary component of their exercise routine of the true, objective, and Physiological facts surrounding it.

———Current research quotes are provided at the bottom———-

The problem with the words ‘Stretching’ and ‘Flexibility’ is that they have becoming marketing terms at the expense of addressing appropriate needs for the body. It seems that most who stretch or prescribe stretching for their clients do not understand the Physiology of lengthening and contracting tissue, the true causes of chronically stressed tissue, or other options to address the issue more effectively. As with many things in life, everyone seems to think that more is better and that includes joint range beyond what is required of the body. Nothing could be further from the truth. Increased flexibility beyond established skeletal limits is detrimental and actually promotes injury. I have a saying: “Just because you can go there doesn’t mean you should.” Truth be told, choosing the right type of resistance training exercises through the appropriate range of motion on regular basis accomplishes the goal of stretching and contracting muscle efficiently and maintains optimal functioning range of motion.

Passive stretching (using force to increase range of motion be it gravity or self production) is typically performed before or after a workout to ‘loosen up’ muscles, prevent them from becoming stiff, or even address a chronically ‘tight’ muscle. The process of reaching, bending, and holding positions to the point of pain is really quite absurd and self-defeating when you really look at it from a Physiological standpoint. In terms of alleviating muscle soreness, there is no scientific research that supports this and stretching muscles that are not properly warmed up physically or neurologically is a leading cause of injury. In fact, the exact mechanisms of muscle soreness, and why it occurs are still being debated to this day. As far as stiffness or tightness goes, why doesn’t anyone ever question why muscles are that way in the first place? Treating the symptom of tightness without understanding the cause as to why it is tight in the first place doesn’t solve anything.

Why is a muscle ‘tight’?

How? A muscle gets overused or pushed beyond its current capabilities, gets injured, dehydrated, or malnourished, and is unable to perform it‘s contractile and stabilization duties

Why? The central nervous system shuts off its transmission signals to protect the muscle from
any further injury and to repair itself

Then? Motion is compromised yet other muscles will take over the duties for the shut-down muscle
so that movement can still occur. We call this compensation

And? The body senses this instability and compensation around the involved joint and limits motion even further to protect itself from injury.

Inhibition > Instability > Compensation > Protection > Tightness

• Muscle tightness is a protective mechanism
• Stretching does not solve the problem but only temporarily aggravates the symptom

It sounds complicated but it really isn’t. The body is so smart and wired so well that it knows when something is wrong and has the ability to shut down to protect itself. Now ask yourself, does stretching really address this problem at all? If the body is this smart do you think that tugging on a couple of tight muscles will address this neurological protective mechanism that is going on? NO WAY! In fact, all that this stretching does is aggravate the situation even more. And, now you see that it is not addressing the cause of the problem anyway, just the symptom. Sounds familiar right? You have back pain, go to the doctor and he prescribes a pill to ‘mask the problem’. Did it solve the problem? No. Maybe it eliminated inflammation and blocks those pain signals coming down from the nervous system so the body can heal itself, but it did not address the problem itself.

NOW…ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS !!!

• Why are you stretching? (because everyone else does?)
• What are you stretching? And how do you know?
(there is a lot more than muscle inside of the body that goes along for the ride: organs, connective tissue, fascia, neural tissue, blood vessels, veins, etc…)
• Are there any structural limitations that you do not know about, you cannot see?
(bone spurs, arthritis, bulging disks, )
• Are you disrupting innate neurological protective mechanisms?
(are you persecuting instead of allowing healing)
• Are you just providing temporary results coming in the form of increased but instable ROM enhancement? (more range of motion does not mark improvement)
• Are you qualified or bordering on malpractice? (Stretching IS Manipulation!)
(personal trainers are not qualified to manipulate)
• Think about ROM Training and other options
(producing strength in positions of weakness using isometrics, or MAT)
• Resetting CNS to accept and allow ROM (Isometrics, MAT) Neuromuscular Negotiation
• Types of ‘stretching’ (PNF, AI, passive, contract-relax, etc.)
• Muscles are disciples of the CNS

* DON’T TREAT SOMETHING THAT DOES NOT NEED TO BE TREATED

* KNOW JOINT ROM’S AND RESPECT THEM

* MORE IS NOT BETTER

A more in depth look:

Muscular Inhibition

• Muscles require proper and precise neurological transmission from the nervous system in order to fire, (contract, move, stabilize)
• Muscle weakness/inhibition, is a shut down muscle that is receiving no, or distorted, neurological input (due to injury, overuse, improper nutrition, stress, pharmaceuticals)
• Muscular inhibition creates a situation of joint instability (all muscle surrounding a joint must actively participate and perform given duties)
• Muscles tighten up to protect the joint due to instability (like walking on ice)
• Compensatory patterns, (other muscles picking up the duty of the shut-down muscle), develop causing joint limitation, misalignment, inappropriate and distorted movement patterns
• If left untreated it will become a structural issue. Bad wear pattern. (un-balanced tires.)
• The weak muscles get weaker and the strong get stronger (picking up the slack)
• Strengthening inhibited muscleclature is not possible if not receiving proper neurological input. One of the problems with traditional rehab. (You can’t run a car if there isn’t any gas!)
• Identification of muscular inhibition is best identified with manual muscle testing
• Activation of muscle utilizing digital palpation at origin and insertion elicits neurological stimuli via afferent pathways.
• Reinforcement of newly reactivated muscleclature is best performed using controlled, isolated, precise, low-grade isometric contractions.
• Tightness is secondary to weakness. Tightness=Symptom Weakness=Cause

Muscle Activation Techniques

“Functional Training will only reinforce compensatory patterns unless the weak links are not first identified and eliminated” -Greg Roskopf

“Strength is the ability to produce force with control in any given situation” –Bill Leavitt

“You are only as strong as your weakest component” –G. Roskopf

Control (as pertaining to resistance training)

• The most important way to maintain optimum muscle function and prevent dysfunction
• The missing but consistent link
• Comes from CNS
• Training the connection between the brain and the muscle
• Motor learning: A motor pattern, (movement), must be learned, rehearsed, engrammed, (encoded), and mastered before it can be intensified
Practice the exercise before increasing the weight
• Proper Progression and continued Variation is the key to neurological integrity
• Synchronized movement is not possible without progression, intension, and focus
• Range of motion without control = Injury
• Never add external instability to internal instability (balance apparatus)
• If you want to see violation of any of the previously mentioned points, just walk in to any weight room in the country and look for the biggest guy making the most noise.

The Integrated System

• Force > Bone > Connective Tissue > Joint > CNS > Muscle > Heart
• Can you have one without the other?
• Is there an order?
• CNS is always the overriding factor!
• The heart is just a slave to muscle demand
• A joints structure actually determines a muscles role
• Respect of joint structure to maintain integrity
• Do not violate
• Cannot have mobility without stability
• Dynamic Stabilization

Connective Tissue


Types: Ligament, Tendon, Fascia, Bursa
Do you want them to stretch?
Tendons transmit force from muscle to bone…They Do Not Stretch!!! What if they did stretch? Laxity and instability, premature joint degeneration, arthritis
Can they stretch? Pick up slack from resting length, gliding
They limit and regulate motion

RESEARCH & Stretching Quotes (research summarized)

 “Joint mobilization refers to movement of the joint through its established range. Joint manipulation is movement of the joint beyond its established range. Consider these definitions when it comes to ‘stretching and the legal/ethical boundaries that accompany your specific professional education, skills and liability. A key for a professional is that we do not treat things that do not need treatment. Understand the difference in procedures for maintaining joint range and improving joint range.” -Purvis

 “Although in many instances lack of flexibility obviously limits performance and the voluntary correction of postural defects, experimental evidence indicates that improvements in performance and posture do not result from increases flexibility nearly as often as has generally been supposed. In fact, excessive flexibility sometimes sacrifices desirable stability and support, and may predispose a joint to injury.” -Rasch

 “Although static stretching has been found to be effective in causing an acute increase in the ROM at a joint, research indicates it can also produce a significant acute decrement in strength, and power production.” ¹

 “As little as two minutes of static stretching can impair power performance.” ¹

 “Increasing muscle temperature by submaximal exercise would be more important than stretching for decreasing the risk of soft-tissue injury” ¹

 “Given the lack of evidence in favor of static stretching during warm-up for injury prevention, it seems justifiable to exclude this component from the warm-up for strength and power activities.” ¹ Strength & Conditioning Journal Dec. 2002

 “There is limited scientific evidence about the benefits of stretching, and recent research is challenging some long-held beliefs about the use of stretching prior to exercise”
–Shrier & Gossal

 “If the stretch is perceived as dangerous, the intrafusal fibers contract causing the extrafusal fibers to contract, thus stopping the stretch and preventing injury”. –McArdle, Dalton, Katch ³

 “When they sense too much tension on the muscle, they cause a reflex inhibition of the muscle, causing the muscle to relax thus protecting the muscle and tendon from injury caused by excessive load.” ³

 “A protocol of prolonged, static, passive stretching can inhibit VMC, (voluntary muscular contraction), which may be partially caused by decreases in muscle activation and strength.” -Behm

 “Intense static stretching of the prime movers, prior to a particular skill in which the prime movers would be used should not be undertaken in events that require a maximal strength output.” –Kokkonen et al.

 “The authors concluded that the stretching treatment impaired active force production, which may be because of mechanical changes, such as increased tendon slack.”
- Rosenbaum & Henning

 “Based on this research, it appears that the muscle, the tendon, and/or the muscle tendon unit becomes weaker and is less able to produce high intensity force or has a period of time during which the muscle stays stretched. There appears to be a lag period after stretching, during which, if the muscle is contracted, it must ‘take up the slack’ before the peak tension is reached.” -Fowles et al.

 Stretching through normal physiological motion in the anatomical planes to restore joint motion without addressing joint play is not only less effective, it borders on malpractice.”
- Purvis

 “The greater the difference between ones AROM and PROM, the greater the opportunity for injury.” - Rasch

 “ROM without strength or control = Injury!”

 “Muscle contraction or reflex activation of motor units during intentional stretching of a muscle creates a resistance to the stretching procedure and makes stretching more difficult and possibly ineffective.” –Joint Structure & Function

 “A key concept in performing PROM for anyone other than a trained health care professional is not to impose range but to utilize the range offered or allowed by the body.” - RTS

 “AROM: is the process of performing the ROM independently under the power of the muscles surrounding the involved joint. In the fitness world this ideal for evaluation, functional parameters, and flexibility enhancement.” RTS

Isometrics & MAT™

 Iso (same), Metric (length). Contraction but no visible movement
 Least stressful and most controlled form of exercise when dealing with injury or limitation.
 Reciprocal Inhibition: activate agonist to inhibit tonicity of antagonist
 Pre-requisite to isolated strengthening exercises
 Gamma Biasing: Stimulation of Gamma pathway for contraction instead of Alpha fibers, (due to lack of movement) Initiates alpha-gamma co-activation. AKA as spindle biasing.
 Sets the stage for neurological facilitation and integration
 Find limitation and start there. 30% patient effort progressing to 75% of available strength into direction of muscle action. 6 reps for 6 sec.

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