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Stretching 101


I hear inflexible clients wishing they were more flexible, and more flexible clients wishing they weren't so much. Everyone is different and it is completely normal to feel like this... The grass looks greener on the other side etc. There is a scale of flexbility, from those who can hardly get passed their knees when trying to touch their toes, to people who are classed as hypermobile, and have a diagnosed hypermobility condition. No matter where you are on that scale, it's normal, but it does not mean there is nothing you can do to improve.

- Inflexbility: Improve flexibility

- Very flexible: Improve strength to help support the increased elastin content in your matrix composition.

Flexibility depends on your genes which code your matrix composition, and can be impacted by posture and biomechanics. Collagen is a prime factor, and increased collagen can reduce flexibility noting there are many collagen variations, where as elastin increases flexibility capacity. There are other factors such as tenascins and lamins for example, and depending on your own composition, depends on where you are on the flexibility scale. Thus, generally the less flexible tend to have increased collagen in their matrices.

What next?

No matter where you are in your stretch, it is important not to compare yourself to other people, and rather focus on your own aims and goals. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, some can stretch exceptionally well, where as others cannot, so focus on your own body and you will get to where you want to be.

- Inflexibility: Consider things like stretching, hydration (the average water intake per person should be 1.2 liters/day:, movement patterns (biomechanics), posture and finding a good balance between rest vs exercise.

- Very flexible: Consider strengthening the joints which are extra flexible, some find that hydrotherapy very helpful due to the reduced gravity and increased resistance (*1). Stretching is not always that helpful without professional advice due to the likelihood that the tendons and ligaments will enable the majority of the stretch, rather than the muscle stretching appropriately, and therefore foam rolling may be more useful. If you find that you hyperextend joints, from fingers to knees and hips, and/or have a history of dislocating joints, I strongly recommend seeking a hypermobility diagnosis from a qualified professional (2*). If you are extra flexible, frequent soft tissue therapy is highly recommended as over stretching can be detrimental to your soft tissue. Please ensure that your therapist is fully aware of your hypermobility, and understands what needs to be adapted to suit your individual needs regarding hypermobility, such as myself.

*1 For those based in Nottingham, the University of Nottingham has recently opened their David Ross center which has hydrotherapy facilities:

*2 For those in Nottingham, I recommend Rachel Burr who is a Physiotherapist and a Guest Lecture at the University of Nottingham teaching on hypermobility:

- Both inflexible and very flexible: You may find that having Epsom Salt baths are helpful due to the muscles absorbing the magnesium which increases tissue hydration and can help reduce muscle tension. If you have a known or suspected vitamin and/or mineral deficiency, or on medication, please seek advice from your GP before trying Epsom Salt baths. Ebay and Amazon have good deals on medical grade Epsom Salts. The amount of Epsom Salts per bath depends on your weight, height, BMI, and level of physical activity that day.

Why stretch

Stretching is not just for "Yogi's", although many professional teams including Premiership Rugby Teams, use yoga as a part of their training program to improve their team performance! Whether your aim is to lift heavier weights, complete an Ultra Marathon or Ironman, or simply increase flexbility, stretching is an integral part of training as it improves matrix alignment and function, and therefore mobility. However, stretching without considering the objective alignment is inefficient and not overly helpful - it can improve muscle lengthening whilst increasing risk of injury - so HOW you stretch is extremely important. There is much research with varying results, some saying that stretching does improve performance, and others saying it makes no impact - yet there is little research on stretches which promote subjective alignment.

Here is an example of quantitative research on stretching in regards to plantar fasciatis which supports the stretching protocol: Digiovanni et al., (2006) Plantar fascia-specific stretching exercise improves outcomes in patients with chronic plantar fasciitis: a prospective clinical trial with two-year follow-up. JBJS, 88(8), pp.1775-1781.

How to stretch

Stretching requires initiative and understanding:

1) What are you stretching?

2) Why are stretching it?

You are not only stretching the skeletal muscle, but your soft tissue which includes fascia. Fascia can be found throughout the entire body, encasing everything to ensure tensegrity (how your body holds itself together). So stretching must be done mindfully and subjectively.

- POSTURE: Posture is a BIG integral part to performance and reducing tension. Poor posture can cause reduced power output, hindering performance. Therefore, any stretch, or any soft tissue therapy/conditioning for that matter, has an aim to improve posture. Noting, if you have extra flexible shoulders for example, it is important to stretch in accordance to therapist guidance as mentioned above. It is easy to compensate in stretching, thus, stretching in accordance to your soft tissue alignment which is caused by posture and biomechanics is vital - improve your stretch by considering why you are doing it, and what you want to stretch.

- Legs: From feet, calves/achilles, hamstrings, quads, and hips/pelvis, it is important to consider the relationship between the big toe and hip, and balance through the knee. To believe in plantar fascia and that fascia exists nowhere else is like accepting that there are bones in the