Our bodies have many built in safety features. One is the Stretch Reflex. When a muscle is stretched a signal is sent to the spine, then the spine sends a message back telling the muscle to contract so as to not stretch too hard or too far. This protects against torn or strained muscles. This reflex is very helpful if we slip, lose balance or move too quickly. This reflex can hinder our efforts to increase flexibility through stretching unless we know how to bypass it or calm it down.
Many people incorrectly think that if a 1/2 inch stretch is good then a 2 inch stretch must be 4 times better. Another misconception is that if the stretch hurts, stretching it farther must be good for gaining even more flexibility. Not so. You need to learn to stretch smartly. You can use the steps below to calm the stretch reflect so that your muscles can actually relax and get longer.
1. Create very mild, pleasant stretch.
2. Hold perfectly still and breathe deeply until feeling of stretch fades or disappears.
3. Slowly move deeper into the stretch, just enough to find the same mild, pleasant stretch.
Contract Opposite Muscles
1. Create moderate stretch.
2. Contract the muscle group that opposes the stretching muscle without moving bones at all (example, if stretching hamstrings contract quadriceps without straightening knees any more)
3. You should feel release in stretching muscle; if so move deeper into pose.
Dynamic Stretching - Move gradually through greater range of motion
1.Choose an exercise that works around a joint that you want to stretch or mobilize.
2.Move within that movement with slightly more range of motion with each repetition. (for example to stretch and open the hips, legs circles are great. Move through the leg circling movement with slightly great range of motion with each repetition.
There is also PNF, Controlled Release, and Anticipatory Release. These techniques require the help of a trained fitness professional.
In Pilates we use all of these techniques. Your Pilates Teacher is trained on how to use these techniques safely and effectively. In fact most of the Pilates workout incorporates all of these techniques within the workout itself. It’s no surprise that Pilates participants become more flexible over time.