What is Stretching

In every day language we talk about moving about after being fixed in one position as "stretching". This is not the same as stretching in dance where the purpose is to increase the muscle length.

Stretching is a sliding elongation of the overlapping protein fibres in the myofilaments resulting in a lengthening of the myofilaments past their current resting length.

Muscles stretch. Connective tissue tends not to. If you pull on connective tissue you may end up tearing it. These tears cause permanent damage.

Contracted muscles tend to tear rather than stretch. Do not try and stretch a contracted muscle. If muscle is suddenly stretched the reflex is to involuntarily contract. This is why bouncing is harmful. Muscles also contract to maintain stability – eg when you are standing. This means you cannot stretch your hamstrings while standing - the feeling in your legs is your hamstrings "working" not "stretching".

Why stretch?

Stretching increases flexibility, improves blood supply to muscles, relaxes, improves efficiency, improves co-ordination, decreases muscle tightening, improves posture, prevents injury, and decreases muscle tightening that occurs with age

Before you start:

Find out what you need to stretch. Everyone is different. Ideally this means an individual assessment by someone like a sports physio. However, such expertise is sometimes difficult to find or expensive. Other ways are to look at your posture type for clues or try a series of range of motion tests.

Find safe and effective ways to stretch each area.

Ideally each stretch should be specifically targeted – avoid complex stretches until you can handle the parts that make up the stretch. For instance, the splits targets nine muscle groups. Using the splits as a primary stretch will just mean the looser bits never get a chance to stretch.

Not everyone finds every stretch effective. For instance many stretches assume a certain amount of turnout is available. If you don’t have it you will not be able to target the required muscle. In this case you will need to find an alternative method or leave this until the underlying problem is addressed. This is where an informed professional is useful for guidance.

Avoid unsafe stretches such as toe touching, hyperextension of spine such as backbends or cobras. Avoid stretches that overload other structures (muscles, joints, ligaments, cartilage) either by their very nature or because of the configuration of your body.

Do not try and stretch a contracted muscle.

Learn to do the stretch correctly. For instance many stretches require a neutral pelvis. Doing these stretches without the pelvis correctly aligned may mean no stretch occurs.

Be aware that along with increased mobility you may need to increase your stretch and control. For instance if tight back muscles are the only thing that is holding your spine in position (say, due to damaged ligaments), then loosening up the back without strengthening the posture muscles will cause problems.

Doing the Stretch.

First warm up (ideally 10-15 minutes).

Stretch until you feel the muscle you are targeting.

Hold the stretch until you feel the release (20-30seconds).

Repeat two or three times.

Target the muscles around the joint before trying to get more movement from the joint. Stretch muscles and joints before trying nerve mobility.

Stretch every day or second day.

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for those with a general interest in the dance
Calf stretches
Hamstring stretches
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© Copyright 2007
Updated by JEWEL