In keeping with the basics theme from last week, let's talk a bit about stretching and SMR. Wait, you don't know what SMR is? It's the Silly MooCow Repository, where they store all those bovines who had Mad Cow, of course. Or maybe not. How about Self Myofascial Release? Yeah, that's more like it. Although I bet some of you wish it was the first one. Go on, admit it.
(In my best Jerry Seinfeld voice) So what's the big deal with all the stretching? Why do I wanna lay around and sprawl myself on the floor until I look like a pretzel? Ok, I'll keep my day job and while I do, I'll explain why stretching is so important. I'll also cover how it's often done incorrectly and what we can do to fix it.
Stretching, as most people think of it, is commonly referred to as static stretching. This means holding a position for a certain amount of time, usually 15-60 seconds. Doing so allows you to lessen the nerve impulse to the muscle which is fantastic for muscles that are over-active. However I see static stretching done incorrectly on a regular basis.
You want to relax muscles that are over-active at the right time. If you have tight hip flexors, stretching them can relax them, allowing you to better target the glutes, quads and hamstrings during a leg workout or a run. However, this can be done improperly.
If you are about to perform an exercise that will put a substantial load on a muscle or group of muscles, you do not want to lessen their nerve impulse. For example, if you're going to bench press, you do not want to stretch your pec muscles.
Lessening the nerve impulse to a muscle causes it to relax, which causes it's overall power output to lessen. In other words, you don't want to weaken a muscle right before you plan on using it. Mind you, this doesn't mean you shouldn't warm that muscle up.
SMR, or preferably deep tissue work like ART (Active Release Therapy), can be of benefit by allowing "sticking points" in the muscles to relax. Many people are completely unaware they even have these sticking point, or adhesions, until they first experience the comfort that their release provides.
This is a poor analogy, but imagine a drum skin pulled tight across the drum. Now pinch an area of that drum skin and you take slack from all other areas of the drum. This happens all across your body in your muscles and your fascial tissue and it can cause severe pain, inflammation, and even injury.
Having a professional ART specialist, sports chiropractor or massage therapist, among others, work on releasing any existing adhesions can provide massive benefits like reduced pain and increased flexibility and mobility. But be forewarned, the initial sessions will most likely be a bit... uncomfortable... although immediate satisfaction generally follows.
To sum it up, static stretching is great but should be used strategically. The real reward is in having a specialist release any trigger points you may have, even if you're unaware of them. You'll often find that a pain in one area is caused by trigger points in an area you hadn't even considered. I highly recommend both to keep your body flexible, mobile and healthy long into your golden years.
Andy Frisch, NASM CPT, CES, PES, WFS, IFT, NESTA FNC, is a successful personal trainer and nutrition coach who enjoys working with clients of all shapes, sizes and ages. He currently train clients at Sports Village Fitness in Lebanon, works with clients online at www.FreshEvolutionFitness.com and has a budding YouTube channel.