If you’ve ever been injured and gone to a physiotherapist for treatment, odds are good they gave you some stretches to do. Maybe they helped, maybe they didn’t… maybe they caused other problems in ways you never suspected.
The fact about static stretching – the kinds of stretches you hold for a while – is that it damages your muscle and connective tissue. That’s what makes you temporarily mobile after doing a static stretch, Along with that mobility you also weaken the stretched muscle so it doesn’t work as well.
So if you’re doing static stretches, particularly on just a few muscles, or just one side of your body, as part of injury rehab, you are significantly unbalancing your system – weakness in some areas increases the stress in others, and instead of the single injury you’re trying to heal you can end up with a series of subsequent, “compensation” injuries and a few years of your running life consumed by the struggle just to get well enough to train again.
And unwittingly, every time you stretch, you’re prolonging your troubles.
I see this all the time in my practice and, as a former dancer and yogi I’ve experienced it myself. Every time I think back to the 15-30 minutes of stretching I did after every dance class and rehearsal, I wince and wonder what my dancing would have been like if I’d had an alternative.
If your stretches do make the initial problem feel better, you probably don’t want to stop, and I don’t blame you! So what should you do?
You have two good options:
- Switch to dynamic stretches, also called “dynamic range of motion” exercises or “active isolated stretching.” As the physical effects of static stretching become better known, more and more intelligent, creative fitness and rehabilitation professionals are developing alternatives. What they all have in common is that they work more with your nervous system, helping you have the functional flexibility you need for the movements you’re doing.
- Feldenkrais lessons – the ultimate education for your nervous system so you can regulate your flexibility and coordination spontaneously and powerfully.
The first of these two options is primarily a type of symptom management though it can also be great maintenance for runners. Personally I do active stretching regularly.
The second addresses causes – not only of the “tightness” you’ve been treating with static stretches, but of the original injury, pain, or problem you were trying to deal with.
So take a moment to reassess your self-care and stretching regimen. If you’re doing static stretches, try swapping in active ones and see how you feel in a week. Then take it one step further by trying Feldenkrais with a local practitioner, audio recordings purchased online, or one of my programs.
Are you currently doing static stretches? Give this a try and leave a comment letting me know what you experience!