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Old 05-13-2006, 05:30 PM
EricT EricT is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2005
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Section: 4.3 Massage

Many people are unaware of the beneficial role that massage can play in both strength training and flexibility training. Massaging a muscle, or group of muscles, immediately prior to performing stretching or strength exercises for those muscles, has some of the following benefits:
increased blood flow

The massaging of the muscles helps to warm-up those muscles, increasing their blood flow and improving their circulation.
relaxation of the massaged muscles

The massaged muscles are more relaxed. This is particularly helpful when you are about to stretch those muscles. It can also help relieve painful muscle cramps.

Removal of metabolic waste
The massaging action, and the improved circulation and blood flow which results, helps to remove waste products, such as lactic acid, from the muscles. This is useful for relieving post-exercise soreness.

Because of these benefits, you may wish to make massage a regular part of your stretching program: immediately before each stretch you perform, massage the muscles you are about to stretch.

Section: 4.4 Elements of a Good Stretch

According to ‘SynerStretch’, there are three factors to consider when determining the effectiveness of a particular stretching exercise:
1. isolation
2. leverage
3. risk

Section: 4.4.1 Isolation

Ideally, a particular stretch should work only the muscles you are trying to stretch. Isolating the muscles worked by a given stretch means that you do not have to worry about having to overcome the resistance offered by more than one group of muscles. In general, the fewer muscles you try to stretch at once, the better. For example, you are better off trying to stretch one hamstring at a time than both hamstrings at once. By isolating the muscle you are stretching, you experience resistance from fewer muscle groups, which gives you greater control over the stretch and allows you to more easily change its intensity. As it turns out, the splits is not one of the best stretching exercises. Not only does it stretch several different muscle groups all at once, it also stretches them in both legs at once.

Section: 4.4.2 Leverage

Having leverage during a stretch means having sufficient control over how intense the stretch becomes, and how fast. If you have good leverage, not only are you better able to achieve the desired intensity of the stretch, but you do not need to apply as much force to your outstretched limb in order to effectively increase the intensity of the stretch. This gives you greater control.

According to ‘SynerStretch’, the best stretches (those which are most effective) provide the greatest mechanical advantage over the stretched muscle. By using good leverage, it becomes easier to overcome the resistance of inflexible muscles (the same is true of isolation). Many stretching exercises (good and bad) can be made easier and more effective simply by adjusting them to provide greater leverage.

Section: 4.4.3 Risk

Although a stretch may be very effective in terms of providing the athlete with ample leverage and isolation, the potential risk of injury from performing the stretch must be taken into consideration. Once again, ‘SynerStretch’ says it best: Even an exercise offering great leverage and great isolation may still be a poor choice to perform. Some exercises can simply cause too much stress to the joints (which may result in injury). They may involve rotations that strain tendons or ligaments, or put pressure on the disks of the back, or contain some other twist or turn that may cause injury to seemingly unrelated parts of the body.

Section: 4.5 Some Risky Stretches

The following stretches (many of which are commonly performed) are considered risky (M. Alter uses the term ‘X’-rated) due to the fact that they have a very high risk of injury for the athlete that performs them. This does not mean that these stretches should never be performed. However, great care should be used when attempting any of these stretches. Unless you are an advanced athlete or are being coached by a qualified instructor (such as a certified Yoga instructor, physical therapist, or professional trainer), you can probably do without them (or find alternative stretching exercises to perform). When performed correctly with the aid of an instructor however, some of these stretches can be quite beneficial. Each of these stretches is illustrated in detail in the section ‘X-Rated Exercises’ of M. Alter:

“the yoga plough”
In this exercise, you lie down on your back and then try to sweep your legs up and over, trying to touch your knees to your ears. This position places excessive stress on the lower back, and on the discs of the spine. Not to mention the fact that it compresses the lungs and heart, and makes it very difficult to breathe. This particular exercise also stretches a region that is frequently flexed as a result of improper posture. This stretch is a prime example of an exercise that is very easy to do incorrectly. However, with proper instruction and attention to body position and alignment, this stretch can be performed successfully with a minimal amount of risk and can actually improve spinal health and mobility.

“the traditional backbend”
In this exercise, your back is maximally arched with the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands both flat on the floor, and your neck tilted back. This position squeezes (compresses) the spinal discs and pinches nerve fibers in your back.

“the traditional hurdler’s stretch”
This exercise has you sit on the ground with one leg straight in front of you, and with the other leg fully flexed (bent) behind you, as you lean back and stretch the quadricep of the flexed leg. The two legged version of this stretch is even worse for you, and involves fully bending both legs behind you on either side. The reason this stretch is harmful is that it stretches the medial ligaments of the knee (remember, stretching ligaments and tendons is bad) and crushes the meniscus. It can also result in slipping of the knee cap from being twisted and compressed.

“straight-legged toe touches”
In this stretch, your legs are straight (either together or spread apart) and your back is bent over while you attempt to touch your toes or the floor. If you do not have the ability to support much of your weight with your hands when performing this exercise, your knees are likely to hyperextend. This position can also place a great deal of pressure on the vertebrae of the lower lumbar. Furthermore, if you choose to have your legs spread apart, it places more stress on the knees, which can sometimes result in permanent deformity.

“torso twists”
Performing sudden, intense twists of the torso, especially with weights, while in an upright (erect) position can tear tissue (by exceeding the momentum absorbing capacity of the stretched tissues) and can strain the ligaments of the knee.

“inverted stretches”
This is any stretch where you “hang upside down”. Staying inverted for too long increases your blood pressure and may even rupture blood vessels (particularly in the eyes). Inverted positions are especially discouraged for anyone with spinal problems.

Section: 4.6 Duration, Counting, and Repetition

One thing many people seem to disagree about is how long to hold a passive stretch in its position. Various sources seem to suggest that they should be held for as little as 10 seconds to as long as a full minute (or even several minutes). The truth is that no one really seems to know for sure. According to ‘HFLTA’ there exists some controversy over how long a stretch should be held. Many researchers recommend 30-60 seconds. For the hamstrings, research suggests that 15 seconds may be sufficient, but it is not yet known whether 15 seconds is sufficient for any other muscle group.

A good common ground seems to be about 20 seconds. Children, and people whose bones are still growing, do not need to hold a passive stretch this long (and, in fact, Kurz strongly discourages it). Holding the stretch for about 7-10 seconds should be sufficient for this younger group of people.

A number of people like to count (either out loud or to themselves) while they stretch. While counting during a stretch is not, by itself, particularly important ... what is important is the setting of a definite goal for each stretching exercise performed. Counting during a stretch helps many people achieve this goal.

Many sources also suggest that passive stretches should be performed in sets of 2-5 repetitions with a 15-30 second rest in between each stretch.

Section: 4.7 Breathing During Stretching

Proper breathing control is important for a successful stretch. Proper breathing helps to relax the body, increases blood flow throughout the body, and helps to mechanically remove lactic acid and other by-products of exercise.

You should be taking slow, relaxed breaths when you stretch, trying to exhale as the muscle is stretching. Some even recommend increasing the intensity of the stretch only while exhaling, holding the stretch in its current position at all other times (this doesn’t apply to isometric stretching).

The proper way to breathe is to inhale slowly through the nose, expanding the abdomen (not the chest); hold the breath a moment; then exhale slowly through the nose or mouth. Inhaling through the nose has several purposes including cleaning the air and insuring proper temperature and humidity for oxygen transfer into the lungs. The breath should be natural and the diaphragm and abdomen should remain soft. There should be no force of the breath. Some experts seem to prefer exhaling through the nose (as opposed to through the mouth) saying that exhaling through the mouth causes depression on the heart and that problems will ensue over the long term.

The rate of breathing should be controlled through the use of the glottis in the back of the throat. This produces a very soft “hm-m-m-mn” sound inside the throat as opposed to a sniffing sound in the nasal sinuses. The exhalation should be controlled in a similar manner, but if you are exhaling through the mouth, it should be with more of an “ah-h-h-h-h” sound, like a sigh of relief.

As you breathe in, the diaphragm presses downward on the internal organs and their associated blood vessels, squeezing the blood out of them. As you exhale, the abdomen, its organs and muscles, and their blood vessels flood with new blood. This rhythmic contraction and expansion of the abdominal blood vessels is partially responsible for the circulation of blood in the body. Also, the rhythmic pumping action helps to remove waste products from the muscles in the torso. This pumping action is referred to as the “respiratory pump”. The respiratory pump is important during stretching because increased blood flow to the stretched muscles improves their elasticity, and increases the rate at which lactic acid is purged from them.

Section: 4.8 Exercise Order

Many people are unaware of the fact that the order in which you perform your stretching exercises is important. Quite often, when we perform a particular stretch, it actually stretches more than one group of muscles: the muscles that the stretch is primarily intended for, and other supporting muscles that are also stretched but which do not receive the “brunt” of the stretch. These supporting muscles usually function as synergists for the muscles being stretched (see Section 1.4 [Cooperating Muscle Groups]). This is the basis behind a principle that ‘SynerStretch’ calls the “interdependency of muscle groups”.

Before performing a stretch intended for a particular muscle, but which actually stretches several muscles, you should first stretch each of that muscle’s synergists. The benefit of this is that you are able to better stretch the primary muscles by not allowing the supporting muscles the opportunity to be a limiting factor in how “good” a stretch you can attain for a particular exercise.

Ideally, it is best to perform a stretch that isolates a particular muscle group, but this is not always possible. According to ‘SynerStretch’: “by organizing the exercises within a stretching routine according to the principle of interdependency of muscle groups, you minimize the effort required to perform the routine, and maximize the effectiveness of the individual exercises.” This is what ‘Health For Life’ (in all of their publications) calls “synergism”: “combining elements to create a whole that is greater than the mere sum of its parts.”

For example, a stretch intended primarily for the hamstrings may also make some demands upon the calves and buttocks (and even the lower back) but mostly, it stretches the hamstrings. In this case, it would be beneficial to stretch the lower back, buttocks, and calves first (in that order, using stretches intended primarily for those muscles) before they need to be used in a stretch that is intended primarily for the hamstrings.

As a general rule, you should usually do the following when putting together a stretching routine:
· stretch your back (upper and lower) first
· stretch your sides after stretching your back
· stretch your buttocks before stretching your groin or your hamstrings
· stretch your calves before stretching your hamstrings
· stretch your shins before stretching your quadriceps (if you do shin stretches)
· stretch your arms before stretching your chest

Section: 4.9 When to Stretch

The best time to stretch is when your muscles are warmed up. If they are not already warm before you wish to stretch, then you need to warm them up yourself, usually by performing some type of brief aerobic activity (see Section 4.1.1 [General Warm-Up]). Obviously, stretching is an important part of warming-up before (see Section 4.1 [Warming Up]), and cooling-down after a workout (see Section 4.2 [Cooling Down]). If the weather is very cold, or if you are feeling very stiff, then you need to take extra care to warm-up before you stretch in order to reduce the risk of injuring yourself.

Many of us have our own internal body-clock, or “circadian rhythm” as, it is more formally called: Some of us are “early morning people” while others consider themselves to be “late-nighters”. Being aware of your circadian rhythm should help you decide when it is best for you to stretch (or perform any other type of activity). Gummerson says that most people are more flexible in the afternoon than in the morning, peaking from about 2:30pm-4pm. Also, according to ‘HFLTA’, evidence seems to suggest that, during any given day, strength and flexibility are at their peak in the late afternoon or early evening. If this is correct then it would seem to indicate that, all else being equal, you may be better off performing your workout right after work rather than before work.

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If you act sanctimonious I will just list out your logical fallacies until you get pissed off and spew blasphemous remarks.
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