yeloson: (Default)
I figured I should also cover the second most common thing full of misinformation: stretching.

How Adhesions Form

Every night, while you sleep, your body goes into general repair mode. There's a certain amount of cells that are dead and pulled out, and your body does a general repair cycle all around. This generalized thing includes laying down connective tissue - everywhere and without necessarily direction.

When you wake up, you've got this thin layer of connective tissue that's been placed throughout your body. You get up, you yawn, you stretch and you obliterate a good amount of that connective tissue. You go make breakfast or rush for a shower, etc. - all those movements take out some more of that tissue.

The stuff that's left over? It gets built up the next night, and the next night, etc.

Presumably, since you're not moving in a way to tear it back down, it's assumed you don't actually need that range of motion, and instead, you need stabilization, which is exactly what that connective tissue will give you, given enough time to build up.

It'll be strong, but it'll reduce your range of motion. (This also happens with injuries, but more on that later).


The biggest misconception is that greater range of motion is always a good thing.

Stretch to the range of motion you expect you'll need to use for your activities- not more than that.

The reality is that you're always doing a tradeoff between how much range of motion and the amount of work it takes to make your body functional AND safe at that range, otherwise, you open yourself up for injuries.

When you stretch, you're not just breaking up that adhesive tissue, you're not just stretching the muscles and corresponding tissues (tendons, fascia, etc.), you're also resetting the muscles to expect to be at that range and not automatically lock up to stabilize things.

You're turning off safeties to protect your joints.

Now, if you're also training your muscles to be strong at that extended range, and you're training your nervous system to coordinate firing all your stabilizers to handle that, great.

But you can see, that's a lot more work than just "stretching it".

You will also be able to identify qualified instructors or resources like books or websites based on if they give you those two other factors of how to strengthen and develop stabilizers.

When you do stretch, be gentle and don't bounce. Be willing to go partway, like 75-80% and then come back to it and see if you can get 90% and then come back to it later for a full stretch. Make sure you do some warm up for the movement you plan on doing so you didn't just relax the muscles without active stimulation.

Strength & Stabilizers

There's a lot of folks who can stretch themselves into extreme ranges... but can't get themselves out of it without using different muscles. While this is fine when you're stretching in a gym or at home, if you take a fall and find yourself in the same position, that lack of muscle strength means the shock will probably hit in a bad way.

So it's really important to have strength throughout the full range of motion you have.

Second, you also have to make your muscles "smart" - to be able to coordinate to work when something like that happens. This is where stabilizers come in. The trick to stabilizers is that it's a coordination between your brain and your muscles- you're training yourself to fire off many different muscles, in order to stabilize your joint and body.

This is why you might have someone who is very strong, can leg press their whole body weight with each leg... but has trouble standing on one leg- the issue isn't strength, it's firing different muscles in time to keep balance.

If you are going to do some stretching to increase your range of motion, be sure to follow it with some strength training and some stabilizer work..

Actually Stretching

There's also another issue that happens when we talk about stretching. Let's say you're doing the classic "touch your toes" kind of stretch. Typically this is supposed to be used to stretch the hamstrings.

Problem is, a lot of people end up stretching their lower back muscles and not their hamstrings in the process.

The body will take the route of least resistance- if your back muscles have more give, it'll do that. Not only will you have not stretched the hamstrings, enough of it, and you might have weakened the support from your spinal ligaments. (One of my teachers works with a circus school - it's pretty much accepted among contortionists that they will just have to suffer back pain from their work...)

When you're doing any actual stretching work, you should have a qualified person or information resource that can help you identify what you should be feeling and more importantly - what you SHOULDN'T be feeling, so you don't "cheat" the stretch or take yourself into places that might stress the joints.

Injuries and Stretching

The short bit on injuries basically boils down to three things:

1) Listen to your doctor and physical therapist- they're going to tell you what NOT to do to make it worse or re-injure, and that's the most important thing.
2) As soon as you're ok'd for movement, even if it's 1 centimeter, do it in order to help break up adhesions a bit and make it easier for you later on. Don't use weight until your PT ok's it.
3) Be very gentle with yourself. A ton of re-injuries happen in 3 weeks to 6 months after an injury. Go with less weight and less force and don't be surprised if progress is measured in weeks or months.

When you get injured, your body lays down that connective tissue everywhere - it's often called "scar tissue".

Movement breaks up the fibers that restrict movement and so it's useful to do that as soon as possible after inflammation has dropped and bruising is done- BUT LISTEN TO YOUR DOCTOR- if you completely separate your tendon- rest assured that scar tissue isn't going to be the big problem on your plate.

After an injury, for the rest of your life, you're going to have to be more careful about stretching and making sure to strengthen and stabilize the area- injuries don't really "heal", it's more your body slaps down enough scar tissue around it and fixes some muscle and calls it good. You've got permanent structural changes from your body making-do with what it could.

Focus on getting day-to-day range of motion and strength more than anything else. Then go slow and definitely be careful if you need to go beyond that.

Why is there so much general info that stretching is always good?

One of the key problems to fitness information in the US at least, if not elsewhere, is that most of it is promoted by "health missionaries" - the weight training folks like to say strength is everything, the cardio folks focus only on cardio... naturally there's a group who believes stretching cures all ills.

All of this also includes over-simplifications of each of those. Not knowing when NOT to do something is how people get hurt.

This kind of thinking is why we're getting a lot of studies which are mixed on a lot of these subjects- of course "sometimes it helps" "sometimes it hurts" is the response if you're randomly popping medicine out of a doctor's bag.

It's not as simple as "just stretching" - is the stretch appropriate to the activity? Is the range of motion appropriate? Are the correct muscles being stretched? Do the muscles have strength through the motion? Is the rest of the warm up appropriate? Is there a history of injury?

There's a lot of specifics that go into it, and you need to think about all of it to get the most out of stretching.

At least, if you get nothing else: Stretch only to the range of motion you expect to use in your activity, and make sure you have strength throughout that full range.
yeloson: (Default)
I keep seeing folks having questions about how to warm up... and sadly, a lot of misinformation on what it does or how you should do it.


How Muscle Tears Happen

Your body has certain safeties built into it. One of them is that your body is designed to let your muscles take damage before your joints take damage- muscles heal easier than joints.

In each of your muscle bundles, there are "Golgi Tendon Reflex" nerves. These things measure how fast your muscles are moving relative to a joint. They exist to activate your muscles to force a "braking action" if something is moving fast enough it could damage the joint.

For example, kicking so hard your knee could flip backward.

Instead of having that, your body activates the antagonistic muscles (the muscles opposite of the movement) to lock up, as quick as possible. This can result in strains or full tears. This response happens at the spinal column- the nerve impulse doesn't even get up to the brain, so this isn't a conscious choice you can make. It's like the response to pull your hand out of a fire before you even feel the pain, same concept.


Warming Up

A warm up is introducing your body to the motions, range of motion, and speed you expect it to perform at. You are resetting the Golgi reflexes to accept a wider range, higher speed than they'd normally be at.

In other words, you're turning off some safeties.

It means your muscles won't do that pull-tear thing, but it also means your muscles are expecting your brain to pay more attention and conscious control around not letting the joint move outside of acceptable ranges.

In order for a warm up to help your performance, it must involve similar or identical motion to what you intend to do.

You start light in terms of speed and force and increase to full speed and force, thereby getting the muscle spindles to turn down the instinctual responses and accept new settings. Using similar movement also means that blood is going to the same muscles that you will be using.

You may need to do some minimal stretching on your antagonistic muscles if they generally tend to be tight from stuff like, you know, sitting in an office all day, etc. - just enough that they're not impeding the primary movement.

What doesn't help

Doing unrelated movements

If you're going to do upper body weight training, jogging doesn't really help. Sure, it's getting you some cardio, and maybe loosing up some shoulder stuff from the bouncing and arm swings... but yeah, not specifically helping you.

Too much range of motion (NEVER DO THIS)

If you warm up by giving yourself a lot of stretches or movements that take your range of motion -greater- than what you plan on doing... you're setting yourself up for injury.

Remember how I said your resetting your muscle fibers to accept a bigger motion and turn off the safeties? When you reset it to take a much bigger range than what you're doing, you're turning off your stabilizing muscles - and increasing the odds of a joint injury.

Why does this/that/the other source say to do jogging/jumping jacks/stretches/etc.?

Getting literally "warmed up" feels good. It gets your brain and nervous system into, "Hey, we're going to DO STUFF" mode.

Thing is, not every activity needs the same kind of warm up. I'm thinking a lot of "warm up advice" is partially a push to get more people to do cardio. The other part of it is assuming people are doing general workouts which a general warm up makes sense.

But it's so simplified and generic, it's equivalent to saying "Take asprin" for any given medical condition - great when you have a minor ache or pain, not so great for many other conditions.

Which is why we keep seeing studies coming out about whether warming up or stretching actually prevents injuries or not. It's highly contextual on the activity and the type of warm up the person did- some warm ups will help certain activities, some will increase your odds of injury.

Cool Down

So, you reset your muscle spindles to do stuff, right? Might be a good idea to reset them again to go back to doing normal things.

If you were doing power/endurance training, it might be a good idea to gently stretch things to keep them from tightening up and cutting off blood flow. If you were doing lots of cardio, maybe slow down the body to normal walking and get it used to that idea, stretch a few things and swing around whatever limbs were being used less- get the blood a bit more evened out.
yeloson: (Write it)
Ultrasound used to kill off sperm temporarily.

Of course, until we have nanotech wiping out all STDs, I'm sticking with rubbers, because I love my business.


yeloson: (Default)

November 2012



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