Over the last few years the Health and Fitness industry has demonised stretching. It has been called pointless, stupid and even un-integrated with the rest of the nervous system. I would argue that the last statement is not only wrong but entirely impossible.
There is no singularity in the nervous system……….EVER.
Muscle Spindles (intrafusal fibres)
Neurologically speaking when we static stretch a group of muscle fibres we are preferentially firing the spindle apparatus of that muscle.
Muscle spindles are sensory apparatus that live in the belly or middle of our muscles and are a mechanism that monitor the length of the muscle fibres and the rate at which that length changes, like a martial arts kick for instance. If you try to take muscle fibres past a range they’re ok with or at a speed they’re not used to, they facilitate muscular contraction as a protective mechanism, effectively preventing further stretch. They are controlled both as part of reflexive spinal cord circuitry and via direct cortical (brain) control.
If you gently static stretch a muscle group for approximately 10 seconds or less there will be an increase in motoric output (strength) of that muscle group as the spindles have been sensitised. When we hold stretches for longer, the opposite is true. The spindles are desensitised and so the contractile capacity of the muscle tissue is temporarily reduced. So that’s spindles in a nutshell.
Golgi tendon organs (GTO’s) live around the musculotendinous junction and these guys monitor the level of tension within their associated muscle fibres. If the tension reaches a point that is deemed dangerous to the integrity of the muscle fibres or joint (like trying to lift a car), the GTO’s will fire and the muscle will relax, releasing the tension.
Arnie’s G.T.O’s can handle the odd car lift.
It is useful to understand these mechanisms when working to improve flexibility beyond your normal range.
The Long and The Short Of It
If you have lost part of the normal range of motion (R.O.M) that you used to have, static stretching is probably the most ineffective way of getting it back. Joint mobility and the utilisation of simple spinal cord reflexes are far more effective interventions, both of which are taught as part of the AMN system.
With a brief overview of the circuitry involved in flexibility in mind, holding static stretches for long durations before performing a skill that requires high levels of tension and strength, probably isn’t the best idea.
Programming flexibility training in all of it’s forms at appropriate times during an exercise regime will completely negate the ‘risks’ and greatly enhance the outcomes. (Yes there are many types of flexibility training.) As with everything, specificity is key!
If you want to increase your R.O.M/flexibility beyond your normal range…………………………………………….wait for it………………………………. YOU HAVE TO STRETCH!
Guess what flexible people spend a lot of time doing?
It’s not talking about what a waste of time stretching is, it’s spending hours practicing flexibility!
A Reality Check
Neuro-physiologically speaking we are not all created equal. We all have different levels of collagen in our soft tissues, varying tendon and muscle lengths, different shaped joints and bones, ligament tensions, injury histories etc etc. We need to be mindful of that.
Is everybody capable of achieving the splits? Probably not. But does everyone have the ability to improve on their current levels of flexibility? Absolutely!!
Another important point to consider is what you do in your childhood. A lot of people I know and work with that have high levels of flexibility, both dynamic and static, tend to have been through a lot of painful stretching protocols as kids. We’re talking about gymnasts, high level track and field athletes, martial artists, dancers & so on. Going through hours of flexibility training each and every week for years whilst at the most naturally flexible time of you life, in the long run makes things a lot easier.
The other aspect to consider here is that each of the sports mentioned above combine all of the factors involved in flexibility;
1. An absolute necessity for high levels of dynamic and static flexibility
2. Static positional practice
3. Dynamic flexibility practice
4. Strength at end ranges of motion
5. Frequent high volume practice (competitive gymnasts spend as much as 6hrs x week outlet on flexibility)
6. Control of respiration & an acceptance of what is an extremely uncomfortable and laborious process
(More information is available on these factors in our certification programme)
In a world and industry where people are always looking for a quick fix, stretching doesn’t really fit the bill. Increases in flexibility are not quickly realised. It is an uncomfortable and time consuming process. So be realistic about the level of flexibility that you have and the level that you require. If you are a weight lifter and can’t get your hands behind the barbell with ease or squat to full depth without your pelvis curling under, you need to work on regaining what should be a normal range of motion. If, like me your flexibility is holding you back from achieving higher and higher levels of strength and acrobatic skills, you need to practice the entire continuum of flexibility for several hours each week.
In the wushu training system, Kung fu masters have their students hold various stretch positions for as long as half an hr.By David FlemingCreator and Co-Founder of the AMN Academy.David Fleming is one of the worlds foremost authorities onMovement Neurology. After well over a decade in the fitnessindustry Dave has learnt from some of the brightest minds allover the globe and is currently the only Personal Trainer to haveever been accepted to study at the Carrick Institute. He’s a totalgeek and is affectionately known as the Jedi Master for his abilityto fix peoples chronic pain when all other avenues have failed.He’s travelled internationallyto coach many PT’s and Therapistson his unique system and is a guest lecturer at the worlds firstBrain Summit. Having said that, it took him until he was 30 topass his driving test, but his mum’s still real proud of him.He’s also a total boss of a Dad.