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To Stretch Or Not To Stretch.....

For a lot of people the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a stiff joint or muscle will be stretching. Stretching has historically been performed as a method to make our muscles ‘long & lean’, however we need to consider and adhere to what the evidence is telling us regarding static stretching.

Does stretching increase the length of our muscles? The short answer is no.

People who have chronically tight muscles may stretch and stretch in an attempt to improve their muscle length but feel like they are seeing little improvement – and for good reason. Static stretching does not increase the length or our muscles!

What does static stretching do then you may ask? Well it CAN improve the range of motion that we have around a joint, but it does not do so by changing the extensibility or stiffness of a muscle. It does so by increasing your tolerance to the uncomfortable stretch sensation.

So if you are stretching in order to make yourself 'long & lean', this simply will not happen.

How then do we lengthen our tight/short muscles? Apply a load throughout the restricted movement, otherwise known as strength training.

But my muscles are already tight, that must mean that they are already too strong/overactive? This train of thought is in the vast majority of cases, incorrect. Muscles that feel tight are generally short and weak.

The common misconception surrounding strength training is that it will make your muscles really tight. The reality is, the stronger your muscles are the better you will be able to control the movement of joints throughout their full range of movement and the more work they will be able to perform before they do get tight.

Eccentric strengthening in particular has been proven to increase muscle fascicle length within our muscles and stimulate sarcomerogenesis. This long and difficult word basically means adding sarcomeres within the muscle. The result creates longer and stronger muscles.

Along with everything else, stretching does have its place (don't forget how gorgeous simple stretching can feel!), so when it comes to making our muscles long and strong, strengthening will always trump stretching.

Don't worry, this does not rule out Yoga, far from it; Yoga includes lots of strengthening with stretching including eccentric strengthening for lengthening those muscles, and it also includes lots of dynamic exercises, which assist too!

Metta's Yoga teacher Joanna is highly qualified in India and the UK with over 500 Yoga Alliance Yoga Teacher training hours, and has over 20 years experience. She teaches private Yoga classes to individuals and groups, drawing from an array of Yoga traditions personalised to the student(s). To learn more or to book private classes with Joanna go here.


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