Thinking on Stretch

……some back and forth thoughts with a clinician regarding what really happens when we “stretch”……….

The process of developing movement through a required ROM has been something that I have been contemplating a bit lately. The idea that stretching “lengthens” a muscle in the setting of a gym or clinic is one I really haven’t been able to buy into. From the little I have read on the subject the majority of any changes that occur are going to be directly due to a change in the nervous system and its input. In the absence of pain and the interest of moving more efficiently in sports I think that some form of training that targets increased ROM is advisable. The only way I know to add length to a muscle is adding sarcomeres in series. Also the amount of force required to impart a plastic deformation on connective tissue is fairly high (24-115kg). While in the clinic or weight room this level of force can be developed externally but it is highly unlikely that 100% of it is applied to the target tissue. (taken from http://ptjournal.apta.org/content/72/12/893.full.pdf)

This is pretty much just a ramble to think “out loud” but I would be interested in any thoughts or opinions. If the nervous system is what dictates our limits in movement then what methods are going to communicate the idea that we need a bit more length in certain movements? And what will cause this to stick over time?

This is some nice neurological adaptation.

I am really not out of favor of putting a limb or joint system into a sustained passive tension. I say limb specifically because the tissue which is tensioned can be any combination of muscle, fascia, tendon, capsule. And within those “pieces,” the constituency of the tissue is varied in terms of elastin and collagen, of course one of which is springy and stretchy, and the other is stiffer and gunky in response to stretch or tension.

I’m sure I’m rehashing a Best Of post from StrengthCoach.com as I delve into my thoughts.

I do not have much of a role for passive stretching in when someone is in a corrective mode. If the muscle or fasica is to blame for a lack of joint mobility, I don’t think yanking on it more is not the way it’s going to get longer. My assumption is that the lack of length is a protective mechanism from the brain, and trying to override this is poor form. Do we even know if this “short” muscle is short from visoelastic constituency that have no resting neural input or contractile components that do?
How do you know what you’re stretching or elongating?  How do you know your elongating what you want to elongate intra-muscularly?

I’m a tremendous proponent of stretching of segments of good tissue quality for increasing excursion to gain more range in which to generate power. So this is not an anti-stretching rant. I’m actually on the opposite side of that research ticket. I don’t question the power loss because if I have more length, I have a greater arc of motion in which to generate force over time, and by the laws of inertia, I actually think power is increased, not decreased. It’s just at a different point in the retest.

I think there can be tight with or without tone.
If you hold a gun to my head, I would probably say muscles take a very long time to get short, and more than likely happen to untrained individuals.
Folks that continue to explore their mobility through movement and mild loads should not experience loss of length.

Now that doesn’t mean passive stretching can not decrease tone. When research demonstrates a post-test of increased ROM after passive stretching, I look at that as a test. I’m not sure if we have an interpretation of the physiology. Does that placid expression of available mobility deliver the parasympathetic state that we may be looking for? Or is there a legimitate mechanical response?

More importantly, if we try to follow that literature, are we gaining length through fibrotic tissue, adhesions, and triggers? Or are we just affecting the tissue around it?
I am very much of the believe that non-manual therapy approaches can affect non-fibrotic tissue. But those areas of muscle that are triggered or fibrotic “have a mind of their own.” I don’t think mind tricks can affect them, be them DNS, Z-Health, or meditation, which is actually where I might position very similarly to long-duration low-load stretching.

Think of gym floor mats. It is mostly black, but it is specked with color. The specs of color are fibrotic tissue that must be treated with manual therapy. But they make up a minute percentage of the whole piece (muscle). I think you can create a legitimate increase in flexibility measures by yanking on all the rest of the piece (black areas of the floor).
I might suggest this is a long-term dysfunction.

If we remove the specs and then go through integrated movements of proper progression, will we can explore joint mobility, new lengths, and neuromuscular control?
Do we need to stretch? Maybe we are without holding it for long duration.
I’d rather (more complicated, yes) get a limb max length that still shows joint integrity, and use other body parts’ motion to drive the nervous system to release tone.

Elongated Man is very different than Plastic Man.

What circumstances would have to occur for static stretching to be chosen above another option? If we are admitting that the majority of the issue is due to neural input why would a static stretch be applied to the structures that are limiting movement whatever they may be? My understanding of static stretching is that it is relying on the visco-elastic properties of the tissues and we are looking for a plastic deformation to occur.In an interesting little video I watched David Butler discussed the use of a mirror box and mentioned the fact that merely using this device is sometimes sufficient to restore some mobility.

This is how you "stretch" the hamstring as I see it.

It’s just a matter of what you call static stretching.
Do I want to get into a position, and just stay there?  No, probably never.

I want to get in and out for no longer than 2 seconds.
Or I want to use creating tensions through the body’s chains and slings to challenge the tone in that maximally lengthened and externally stable arm or leg.  If someone would want to call that static stretching, I think that’s fair.

For those that claim or support that stretching addresses plastic changes, I agree, but as I mentioned before, I think it creates I guess I can call it intramuscular relative compensatory flexibility.  There is fibrotic tissue that is not being lengthened by these “tried and true approaches.”

  • January 11, 2011

Leave a Reply 17 comments

bkellylimerick@gmail.com Reply

Charlie,
What do you think of the value of EQI (eccentric quasi isometrics)?

MARC ASSARAF Reply

hi charlie.
i just finished reading and seeing a good analysis on streching from the stretching institute. their web site is the stretching institute.com
thanks marc

L-Train Reply

Charlie,
I am also wondering what you think of AIS (Active Isolated Stetch)?

Charlie Reply

Bruce – I have never fallen into EQI, but they make sense in terms of what I am talking about in this post. Form must be perfect though to maintain maximal length in the hips and t-spine.

Marc – I’m not sure the stuff on that Website is in line with how I think.

L-Train – AIS is exactly what I am talking about without the rigidity of using specific positions to target certain muscles. I would be more movement-guided and allow the release of the “driver” to reset the muscle, not necessarily restoring the original ROM of the joint.

Sheehan Reply

Charlie,

Great information and thoughts on stretching. The hamstring stretch shown above looks fairly similar to ELDOA stretching. Stretches that focus more on decoaption or tractioning of the spine by putting fascial chains under tension. Namely putting the extremities under tension by pushing them away from the center to allow the axial portion to release.
Just wondering if you knew of Guy Voyer and his ELDOA stretches

jesse14 Reply

Charlie,

You say that passive stretching may in fact decrease tone. In your opinion, how is this achieved? The sympathetic N.S creates a state of constant neural drive or tension to a muscle to protect it. In the case of an anterior pelvic tilt where the hamstring origin and insertion are separated, the N.S tries to protect the hamstrings by creating this increased tone. Stretching this muscle will only serve to INCREASE the SNS activity because it wants to “protect” this elongated muscle from further damage. It is my contention that the pelvic tilt must be corrected before any static or dynamic stretching should be done. By correcting the tilt, PNS activity can take over and allow the increased neural drive to the muscle to dissipate.
Is my line of thinking flawed? Your input would be greatly appreciated

Charlie Reply

Sheehan – I am not familiar with the specifics of his work, but I know the name of Voyer.
I would be willing to bet that while we might use different semantics, I bet the approach that I support is more the same than different.

Charlie Reply

Jesse – I think if the stretch is mildly into the 1st barrier, we could get a parasympathetic shift. This is how I think meditation works, but I also don’t think it has long-term effects second to fibrotic tissue.

Mark McGrath Reply

I think when we discuss stretching, it is important to look at axial extension of the spine as a prerequisite to the lengthening of the limbs. By this I meanan overall lengthening of the spine that increases the distance between the occiput and sit-bones. This will also influence the recruitment pattern. In this way we are not escaping the lengthening opportunity through thoraco-lumbar junction in particular.
In terms of holding stretches, if you are at the limit of your ROM with axial extension eg. downward dog from yoga. Take the perspective of the proprio-sensory mechanisms. They are basically asking; is there anymore length available? and how fast is the lengthening happening? If at this time you focus on stability, and particularly an increase in intra-abdominal pressure via the diaphragmatic control, the effect of the experience of lengthening changes. This is where the opportunity for changes in the cortical map can occur. Tis requires the possibility that alignment is perceptual.

Andrew Voris Reply

Oh my did you just open a can of worms…….
First I must address the comment about shortening only occurring in sedentary individuals or something like that……during my time working in the NFL I saw more overactive muscles that were dense and shortened than all my years in clubs training sedentary individuals……more movement pattern dysfunction from one muscle being overactive and the opposing muscles being underactive.

I had to come to my own conclusions…..flexibility is gained through mobility work and soft tissue work.

You must neurologically inhibit the dense fibers and then take them slightly and safely beyond there current ROM after activating core stabilizers and the opposing weakened and underactive muscles.

Nothing works better than reciprocal inhibition!

Through efficient and accurate corrective, activation drills you can achieve great things as long as you have released adhesions and density problems first.

I find this in all walks of life but it is more difficult to reverse when an athlete is doing a volume of training or participation that is greater than the volume of corrective work.

reverse thus to a greater volume of corrective work and the athlete will improve.

There is my 2 cents…..hope this helps.
My most influential sources over the years have been Boyle, Gray, Cook, Verstegen, NASM, Egosque, ART, MAT and my own trial and error!

Paul Berube Reply

Why are you opposed to holding stretches longer than 2 seconds?

Charlie Reply

I have no concerns with using this neuromuscular approach to “stretching” for longer than 2 seconds.
The Mattes Method of AIS is where that number comes from I believe.

Joe Caligiuri Reply

Elongating a muscle through passive tension is only required if you are under the presumption that when actively elongated, there are no current adhesions present. Rarely in sport is a muscle completely pliable or absent of scar tissue, adhesions, or fasciae tightness. 5 – 15 minutes of ART before exercise will ensure elongation of tissues thus leading to more appropriate strengthening through full ROM. Throw out the physics.

Julie Reply

If the nervous system is what dictates our limits in movement then what methods are going to communicate the idea that we need a bit more length in certain movements? And what will cause this to stick over time?

Mindfull Myofascial Stretching does it better. Guy Voyers’ myofascial stretching is biomechanically miles ahead as is his method for teaching the brain how to do it. It’s an intense passive-active stretch if well guided. Passive for the myo-fascial-articular-sometimes visceral chain being stretched. Active for the muscles responsible for doing the action of pulling away both ends of the chain and very intense for the brain who is re-learning how put specific muscle fibers in position and condition to be able to release their hyper tonicity. Once the neurological path is opened the body can have access to the full length and full strength. But nothing is that easy in nature. Linear systems of though don’t work no matter how good the theory.

The theory (like most) was created using a model with no mind, perfect posture and every muscle working the way it was built to work. This is never the case when working with a real human beings who uses every possible trick and strategy to avoid tension. In the practice of MFS, the muscles requiring most to be stretched are practically impossible to do. The student can not get into position. They unconciously devise some tactic to avoid putting the hypertonic fibers into tension and when this is put straight another body part alters the position just enough so the objective is never attained. Every individual without exception creates obstructions when trying to stretch the critical muscles and very often these subterfuges were well disguised. Only when the tricks, dodges, ploys and ruses are exposed and corrected can we really put the fibers under tensions to allow elongation of the fibers to happen. So the need to be well guided.

These difficulties do not devaluate the theory nor does the complexity of it become complicatedness. It is the interrelated levels of complex systems within the human being that makes the simple act of stretching a muscle more profound then taking a position, holding a fixed point and pulling on both ends in the axis of the fibers. MyoFascialStretching involves elements that reach beyond the realm of the physical body or the physiological sciences because inherent to this body is a personal life story, a brain, a mind with a conciouness, an inconciousness, an imagination and an ego.

In his first Montreal workshops Guy Voyer taught a night class which nobody really understood. We students were still so much incrusted into an old way of thinking and learning and practicing therapeutics that we didn’t see that the master was giving the terapists the key to successful MyoFascialStretching and ELDOA’s practice. These classes taught us to use pertinent progressions and how to talk to the mind of the practionner so he became empowered to change his predicament. The objective of the progressions is to expose the compensation system and from there change the organisation by building new neurological pathways. When the mind is included into the equation, practicing myofascial stretching and eldoas is even more complex but a lot more fun and when the rightful owner of the body is empowered through his own mind, the results are real and lasting.

Guido Van Ryssegem Reply

Excellent post and comments here Charlie. I’d just like to add that the longer I have been in medical and strength training practice the more I feel, see and experience that whatever technique we prefer to use to change “flexibility” they are all related to changing movement and it’s variability. When we move our CNS will make the decisions for us how we move depending on the degrees of freedom it has available, the degrees of freedom we provide it and/or the environment we are exposed to. These degrees of freedom can be accomplished through manual therapy and other means as long as we can assess the cause of the tissue restrictions as you mentioned above although I would like to add our neural tissue (Butler). A gunshot approach of foam rolling a “trigger point” might work but will not replace the skills of a well-trained clinician. Because a certain ROM looks tight, does not mean that tightness is the problem – we need to think beyond local symptoms and tissue as you mentioned.
Many moons ago I was trained by Aaron Mattes in his AIS approach and saw the incredible results. More and more I think though that his repetitive movement approach actually did the trick; these folks repetitively moved through a ROM they had not experienced for years (even if it was passively) – did we really stretch tissues with this approach and if we did, did these microscopic elongations cause the increased ROM? I have been wondering for years. ROM =/= Flexibility but are related and can influence each other.
Exposing are body to this variability (especially for those that are not exposed to a lot of movement variability – and yes, these fold can be athletes) is often functional, producing adaptability in patterns of coordination needed to secure stable outcomes in dynamic performances/movements. Once stable in their performances, variability in stable performance/movement will increase.
Movement variability affords our sensorymotor system the necessary “flexibility” and adaptability to operate proficiently in a variety of performance, development and learning contexts.

Charlie Reply

When you’re right, you’re right, my friend.

Nick Reply

I really like Voy’s work with myofascial stretching. Are you familiar with his work?

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