Within skeletal muscles there are stretch receptors (spindle fibers) which are designed to protect the muscle from getting stretched too far (aka to the point of tearing). Imagine these fibers to be a coil, like a slinky, and as you pull the coil apart the space increases between coils. When this space becomes greater than an expected amount, the signal is sent to shorten the muscle and get it out of this risky position. This signal can be interpreted as pain and/or an urgency to move. Keep in mind that it’s telling the central nervous system that the muscle is at risk of being torn.
This system seems like a great system for keeping the muscle healthy. However, part of the adaptation that can occur with the body is resetting these coils, or rather the comfortable space between them, closer together. This means that the exact same physical reaction that would protect the muscle from being torn is triggered when the muscle is not even anatomically fully extended. This is the sensation that you may feel when you stretch a muscle statically, meaning you hold a stretched position.
If your goal with static stretching is to maintain the length of the muscle, then you would go to this point and hold until you feel the sensation ease. That easing of sensation means that the fibers have reset to this position. If you have a goal of increasing flexibility, then at the point where the sensation has eased you would move directly into a greater stretched position. Through this gradual adaptation to stages of length the stretch receptors are “taught” a new normal for space and over time they reset to only fire the warning when stretched too far.
Static stretching is just one type of stretching and there are more sensors than just spindle fibers, and while the process may vary, the goal of maintaining or increasing range of motion is the same. While you increase the amount of focus that you put on the Flexibility Key of your program, be gentle and pay attention to your body and the feedback that it gives you.
And, as always, let me know how I can help.
PASSIVE (Receptive) Chest Stretch
It is likely that at some point in your time at EQUIVITA, whether for fitness, massage or yoga, you’ve been introduced to a passive chest stretch.
We’d like to reintroduce you, and say a little about why it’s so useful.
We live in a world where much of what we interact with is in front of us. It only makes sense that one would gravitate in that direction. Whether engaged in driving, computer use, phone use, watching tv, out running, dining, etc., the orientation is forward. In posture, over time, this tends to bring one into a head forward position, and the tendency to collapse the chest is coupled with rounding the shoulders inward and forward. The human body is pretty clever, and it will do what we repeatedly tell it. Eventually, it begins to hold the posture that is reinforced.
This anterior dominant posture has myriad effects on a human physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially. In the broadest strokes, it closes you off in all of those areas. Take a moment to consider what that might look/feel like for you in those aspects of existence.
Simply put, physically, it affects the neck, spine, chest and upper back most directly. Mentally and emotionally anterior dominant posture can contribute to depression, lack of confidence, and disconnect from clarity. The effect on breathing may play a significant role in this. Spiritually, it closes off the heart, a center of connection and gratitude and love. Socially, this posture demonstrates that the individual is “closed”, and can make make a person feel withdrawn. Obviously, these are again, pretty broad strokes, for the purpose of this article. If you want to learn more, reach out, there’s an immense amount of great information surrounding all of this!
A passive chest stretch is done by lying on your back, knees may be bent or supported by a rolled blanket. The arms go out to the sides with the palms up. Shoulder blades resting on the ground. This should be done for 5-10 minutes; it’s a good idea to set a timer so that you remain resting in the posture for the duration.
A lot of people have resistance to doing this because of its passive nature, thinking they’re not “doing” enough. If you can shift your perspective to one of receptivity, it becomes a very different experience.
Try it, and let us know what questions you have.
Got your back! A decompression ‘session’--longer than a stretch...a ‘session’
for unloading/releasing tightness of the low back.
For some of you, a snug low back is part of a long day on my feet, or a short time sitting with a computer. A long time sitting with a computer is next to crippling (I have no endurance for that).
There’s that old adage, you’re only as young as your spine feels, so in the interest of more pliability or less tension in your low back I want to review a few of the ways we could ‘off load’ the tightness in the lower back. While there are many ways to static stretch your back for a 30 count hold, it’s nice to unload the low back for a 10-15 minute respite during your day, in a supported stretch, otherwise called a passive stretch. Here are a few of the options we are fond of to engage a decompression-session for the low back.
That incredible spine of yours is essentially made up of vertebra, stacked together with intervertebral discs which provide cushion and connection(ligament like) between the vertebrae. Then you have a weaving of ligaments and muscles that run the length of your back, and finally bands of fascia, the most substantial of those being the thick band of fascia called the thoracolumbar fascia. To decompress muscle, fascia, ligament, and discs, you essentially need to unload their active role with gravity, posturally help them create space, and influence the return of fluid(either blood or interstitial fluid) to help them reset. The following positions of this passive-style stretch are effective because they address each of those components.
● As a ‘supported’ stretch, your muscles should not be contracting to support the spine up
● Each stretch offers gentle opening/length to the lumbar spine, and thus unloads the
compression and expression of fluid in the intravertebral discs (which is thought to rehydrate when you sleep).
● Each posture stretches your fascia through a soft pull, so when you come out of the stretch the interstitial fluids surges back into the cell matrix and hydrate your fascia, making it more supple.
SELECTED STRETCHES FOR SPINAL DECOMPRESSION
1. Supported Low Back decompression using pillows: lie face down and center one or 2 pillows under your hip crease and rest flat. Your head should be supported on one of both folded arms. It is important to try to relax any tension you may notice in the belly.
2. Lying prone over a large exercise ball. You want to ‘turtle’ the body over the ball and roll the ball’s arc up and down the low lumbar. Try to hang the head for this stretch. Due to the pressure of the ball pressing into the abdomen, you may find it feels nice to rest back on your knees for a minute here and there over the duration of this stretch. It’s also important to come out of this stretch nice and slow, resting upright for a moment before trying to stand up.
3. Feet up the wall. This stretch is lovely for those bodies that express low back tightness because of overly tight hamstrings. It is also great because it can easily incorporate the passive chest stretch as well, and then you reap all the benefits highlighted in Carla’s article.
4. Legs resting over the couch stretch. This stretch is great if you have a tighter-tight low back, it is also very gentle to the lumbar spine, and allows the psoas to remain soft.
The last point I would like to address with this type of stretch is the nervous system. To give any of the above stretches optimal opportunity, take the 10-15 minutes of decompression for your mind. Rest it. Listen to soothing music, perhaps a nature sounds track, tune into a breath practice, but absolutely axe your mobile phone from this time. I also recommend the use of a timer to ensure the full duration of time is devoted to this practice...as Carla reminds us, it’s ‘passive’ and that can make it easier for our active selves to run away!
The above stretches represent some of the more gentle ways to decompress the low back. Set up can vary based on your accessibility. I hope one of the options can help support your spine unload for a spell. Modifications and contraindications are always a foot, so if you have any concerns as to whether you are a good candidate for one of the stretches please feel free to email me with any questions or concerns.
In good health,
I tried static stretching after workouts once my muscles were warm and loosened up, but that only seem to help me avoid being tight afterwards, not necessarily increasing my flexibility. I got a bit more effectiveness out of passive stretching, but still not to the degree that I desired. Once I started taking some yoga classes regularly last year I began to notice even more results. So I started googling to find “yoga stretches” to do, which I don’t even know if that’s a thing, but it was worth a try. A video about dynamic stretching popped up that claimed to increase flexibility. I was skeptical and cautious of such promises — especially since I’d never even heard of “dynamic stretching” before — but decided to give it a shot.
By the end of the 30 minute video I was sweating, like I’d gotten a decent workout in, and my muscles and tendons felt great. Now I was getting somewhere! That was about three months ago, and with combining the dynamic stretch with a static stretch (and a dedicated daily yoga practice), I’ve actually noticed a difference and made progress.
So... what is it?
When doing a dynamic stretch, you are contracting the opposite muscle/muscle group in order to force a full extension of the stretching muscle. This is done in reps, much like other exercises. Plus, you’re physically moving your body, and your mind has to concentrate to isolate and control, so to me it felt like I was actually “doing something”. Dynamic stretching can be done even on cold muscles which makes them a great way to warm up prior to a regular workout routine.
For example, my hamstrings and calf muscles are the muscle groups that are the tightest for me. I’ll get into a sort of lunge position and by moving slowly back and forth, flexing to get a full extension in my leg, for 10 reps. Then I lengthen into a comfortable position and flex my foot back and forth for 10 reps. Afterwards I hold a full extension in a static stretch for 15 seconds.
The “why” behind the increase in flexibility with this method is still trying to be understood by science. There are a lot of studies that show many benefits of adding dynamic stretching to an exercise routine, but not yet on what is actually going on internally to cause these effects.
For me, the proof is in the pudding as they say. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter why, just that I feel it’s working.
All the best,