Because Jennie has such a vast amount of knowledge with her osteopathy, dance, and even psychology background, here's some simple takeaways to remember and practice. Everything I'm about to share with you is from that workshop, and it includes the newest research and protocols on stretching. Enjoy!
WHY do we stretch?
First of all, when we talk about making changes to our flexibility, we are talking about passive stretching. This refers to a static, prolonged stretch, with or without the use of a an external force, like a band, a limb, or a helping hand. Passive stretching basically overrides the signal from our brain to our body, allowing for a reprograming of what the brain deems "normal" in that joint or muscle. Research states that we must stay present with a stretch between 30 and 90 seconds, 3 to 5 times a week in order to affect change and override our body's program to make flexibility gains. Pretty doable, huh?
We work mainly on dynamic stretching during our Pilates and Gyrotonic sessions - movement through the full range of motion of a joint. The main purpose of this type of stretching is literally to grease up the joint and lubricate it with synovial fluid. Our joints truly are of the "use it or lose it" philosophy. Dynamic stretching is fantastic because it's functional, meaning that it helps our joints to adapt to daily stresses more efficiently and recover from exercise more quickly. It also helps to build strength when you have reached a new flexibility threshold - extremely important to protect from injury. However, dynamic stretching will not ultimately help us to change the length of a muscle, i.e. gain flexibility.
With those distinctions in mind, here's a helpful pneumonic for ya. You may feel that stretching is literally a pain in the butt, so I want you to remember ARSE when you think, "Why am I doing this to myself?"
Awareness of your body and its sensations
in order to
Reprogram the software of our brain-body connection
Slow and steady repetition
Ease of movement
WHEN do we stretch?
Because making gains in flexibility reprograms your brain's notion of what is natural for your body, flexibility and stability are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Remember what I just said: passive stretching makes gains, but the dynamic stretching of Pilates strengthens that which we obtain. When our goal is to make changes to our muscle length and gain flexibility, we need to remember that it comes at a price, namely stability. In Jennie's language, when we stretch for that purpose, we are trying to build a new software program into something that has been hardwired into our cells. Because of that, we need to honor our body, meet it where it is, be gentle and kind, and remember this acronym so that we lean into but do not break our body to make those flexibility gains:
When you're Warm
Later in the day
Leads to muscle Length changes
Sends muscle to Sleep
The "S" for "sleep" is particularly important. When we stretch over a prolonged amount of time (30-90 seconds), what's essentially happening is that we are sending that muscle or muscle group to bed. It's now no longer playing nice with the other muscles; in fact, it's not even talking to them. It had a really long day and just wants to sleep. Imagine trying to go for a run after your hamstrings are in that state. Or going for a hike after your quads and calves have gone fishing. Or, as I did as a young gymnast, moving from floor to beam to vault to bars for 4 hours after practicing over-splits on a low beam. (Whew. It's amazing those of us who trained that way can still walk!) Basically, it wouldn't feel great. 'Cause it's not great for our muscles or joints. Instead, jog a bit before you go for a run. Or walk up a few flights of stairs before you hike. And as for gymnastics, save that over-stretching for the end of practice! For us as well, save your prolonged, passive stretching before bed, so you and your body can sleep tight. Well, actually sleep loose...
HOW do we stretch?
As with everything else - mindfully. Which means, listen to your body. Muscles generally work in pairs so when you are stretching and in tune with your body, remember that. If you're doing a hip stretch, but you feel it in your knee it may mean that the lateral line of the body needs to be unlocked first. So place a pillow under your knee until you can feel the stretch in your hip. If your shoulders feel locked up, it may be because your pecs are so tight that they are pulling them into an inefficient position. Open your pecs first by laying on a roller. You may feel like your hamstrings are just so darn tight, but actually, you may sit all day, so in order to loosen your hams you need to open your hip flexors. Instead of touching your toes, kneel into a lunge, or lay back, supported by a yoga ball.
Whatever your goals are, know that you can make useful strides in flexibility, but also that those gains come at the price of stability. So always, Always, ALWAYS listen to your body first. It knows best.
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i'm stephanie. my last names mean "hedgehog" in Czech and "pretty calf" in French. i have an MA from Oxford in English lit, and a MFA from Riverside in experimental choreography. i like to write. i have lots of thoughts on the body. and i want to help you understand your own better. oh, i'm also plant-based and love to bake with vegan ingredients.