I am guilty of not doing this enough. Why I should be doing it more and why it is so important. Stretching - Part TWO.
STRETCHING PART TWO: WHAT HAPPENS TO OUR MUSCLES AS WE STRETCH + BENEFITS OF STRETCHING
So what exactly happens to your muscles when you stretch?
Our bodies have mechanoreceptors, sensory receptors responsible for sensing distortion in body tissues. They are located in our muscles, tendons, ligaments and joint capsules and respond to outside forces such as touch, pressure and stretching. They transmit impulses through our sensory nerves which allows us to monitor the position of our muscles, bones and joints.
Two examples of mechanoreceptors we have are Muscle Spindles and Golgi Tendon Organs.
Muscle Spindles run parallel to muscle fibers and are sensitive to change in muscle length and rate of length changed. When a muscle is stretched, the muscle spindles within that particular muscle are also stretched. The muscle spindles then send information about the muscles length to the brain. Once the brain receives this information from the muscle spindles it can determine the position of various body parts. Muscle Spindles help muscles from stretching too far too fast. When a muscle is stretched an impulse is sent to the spinal cord and a response to contract the muscle is received within milliseconds.
Golgi Tendon Organs are located where the muscles insert into the tendons. They are sensitive to changes in muscular tension and rate of tension change. When stretching, the Golgi Tendon Organs is activated and it causes the muscle to relax which prevents muscle from excessive stress or possible injury.
Let’s apply this to a real life stretch.
When you are sitting and stretching a tight hamstring, the stretch creates tension in the muscle. The Muscles Spindles are activated and prevent the muscle from stretching too far. This tension also stimulates the Golgi Tendon Organs which overrides the tension the muscle feels from the stretch and causes the muscle to relax, allowing for lengthening of the muscle tissue and a deeper stretch. (This process is known as autogenic inhibition).
What are the benefits of stretching?
Your muscles need to be aligned and working correctly to avoid injury and poor posture. Stretching aka flexibility training can help to:
- Correct muscle imbalance
- Increase joint range of motion
- Decrease the excessive tension of muscles
- Relieve joint stress
- Improve neuromuscular efficiency (ability of your neuromuscular system to properly recruit muscles to produce force) (pg. 166)
- Maintain normal length of muscles
- Improve extensibility (ability to be elongated or stretched)
Our daily routines include pattern overload, consistently repeating the same pattern of motion. This can be seen in someone who sits at their desk for work every day, or someone who repeats the same workout regimen. This can put an abnormal amount of stress on the body and even lead to dysfunction in muscles. It is known that new soft tissue is rebuilt along the lines of stress, meaning that if your tissue is injured or working in a dysfunctional manner new tissue will build itself right around these ‘lines of stress’ furthering the dysfunction. Stretching can help to correct these dysfunctional patterns. It is very important to correct any dysfunction before beginning a new workout regimen, or you will just build muscle on a structurally unsound foundation.
Stretching after working out is an important part of a cool down. A cool down is sometimes overlooked but it is very important. It allows the bodies temperature to cool, reduces breathing rates gradually, cools muscles down, can prevent dizziness or fainting, and restores physiologic systems close to baseline. Stretching specifically during the cool down phase allows muscles to return to their optimal length – tension relationships so imbalances do not occur.
UP NEXT, STRETCHING PART THREE: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF STRETCHING
Clark, Michael; Sutton, Brian; and Lucett, Scott. NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training. Jones & Bartlett Learning. MA. Print 2014