Let’s face it, no one likes to stretch. When we only have so many hours in a day to dedicate to an exercise routine, using it to stretch and mobilize our body feels like a waste of our time. We know it is good for us, but very few of us know how it works and ways it can benefit our body’s beyond being more “flexible”.
What most people don’t know is that between the ages of 20-49, our body’s on average lose 10% of our flexibility every 10 years. This is a HUGE decrease in a relatively short period of time and affects multiple aspects of our health and performance. For instance, improving our flexibility has been shown to reduce pain which is a strong measure of our overall well being. Improving flexibility has also been shown to lower inflammation, which can be a major contributing factor in numerous medical conditions.
Working as a chiropractor, it’s facts like this that drive my clients to want to make changes in their training and lifestyle knowing that what they are doing can have dramatic effects on their health. However, without a proper protocol, many people give up quickly when they feel what they are doing isn’t the best way to achieve the goals they want. In my clinical experience, this is the number 1 reason why clients tend to give up on their physiotherapy and exercise rehab programs.
To get the best results with the least amount of time and effort to improve your flexibility, here are 3 science based rules I provide to all of my clients when building them a mobility program designed to improve their “flexibility”.
- Stretch below 50% of your pain threshold
No pain no gain right? When it comes to stretching, this is not the case. Studies have shown that stretching around 30-40% of your pain threshold yields a more effective change in overall flexibility than stretching more “aggressively”. The reasoning behind this is that your flexibility has more to do with your nervous system than it does the structural material (more on this in a blog coming soon). When you stretch at a high intensity, we teach our muscles to tighten up to a pain stimuli to prevent us from entering a position that puts our body at risk, rather than teaching our body to feel comfortable and strong in greater ranges of motion.
Focus on relaxing further into the stretch (or into the foam roller / lacrosse ball) while exhaling to keep the pain at a lower intensity and teach your body to be comfortable in a new position.
- Consistency > Duration (30 to 60 sec per Muscle Group 5 Days per Week)
Have you ever done a long bout of stretching, felt great for a day or two, and quickly returned to your normal level of stiffness? This is again because our flexibility has more to do with our nervous system than our tissue structure (more on this coming soon). Our bodies are not comfortable or strong in this new range of motion that we have created, so after a short period of time, it reflexively tightens back up. The best results have been shown to occur at 5 mins per muscle group per week and topping out at 1 min per day.
I prefer to recommend 30 secs (the minimum threshold for static stretching) per muscle group performed x2 so you can feel the change when entering the movement the 2nd time.
- All Stretching is Effective – Static is Best for Flexibility
There are multiple different types of stretching, including static, dynamic, PNF and ballistic. All types have been shown to be effective when it comes to improving flexibility, however static has proven to be the most effective. Selecting what type of stretching works best for you depends on the timing and the activity we are trying to perform. The idea behind static stretching is to relax the muscles, which can be a hindrance prior to physician activity. However, if that activity requires a greater range of motion that your body wouldn’t otherwise be able to get into, static stretching can be greatly beneficial prior to activity. That said, sticking with the “micro stretching” protocols mentioned in points 1 and 2 makes any potential concerns negligible.
For improvements in overall flexibility, utilize static stretching when possible, however all types will yield benefits so picking what helps you stay the most consistent is most important.
As a chiropractor, it is my job to lead by example, otherwise I will be called out by our team of physios, massage therapists and personal trainers. Life is busy, so to stay consistent I build my stretching routine around my exercise routine, making sure I have 5 mins after I exercise (whether it’s in the gym or after I go for a walk) to focus on the muscle groups that I know are affecting my flexibility.
If you take anything away from this, it is that you don’t have to work hard or suffer through pain to get great results. Make life easy on yourself through small, easy changes that require little effort and willpower, and you will improve your health + performance more than you realize!