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Question on Stretching

I've brought this up before, but resources for designing an adequate stretching program just don't exist, at least not good ones anyway (from what I've found)

For example, I can stretch as much as I want but I still seem to have tightness in those areas. Maybe that's indicative of another problem, or maybe I'm just doing the "wrong" stretch. I really don't know, and short of going to a PT it seems like it will stay that way.


Hi Daniel,

Thanks for writing in! Sorry it took so long to get back to you on this as I just got home after being at the NSCA National Convention for the past 4 days. What a great time! I learned a ton.

Anyway, to your question…

As far as resources go, the Aaron Mattes Active-Isolated Stretching stuff is really great. If you haven’t checked that out yet, I would take a look at it.

When you are stretching, it is important to focus on structures that are tight and NEED to be stretched. We don’t need to increase length in structures that already have good length. One thing you have to do, is determine where the areas of tightness are. This really goes back to having a good assessment plan and determining where your greatest restrictions lie. Another resources that I have talked about, if you haven’t checked it out yet, is Gray Cook’s Athletic Bodies in Balance. It is an excellent book that tells you how to movement screen yourself and find out where the limitations are. This can then help you plan a flexibility program and start correcting some of these limitations.

Sometimes, things that feel tight are not tight at all. In fact, they may have proper length, however we perceive them as tight do to issues with the way that we move or how we test them.

A good example of this is the test were, you lie on the ground and lift your leg straight up in the air to look at your hamstring flexibility. This may show you that your hamstrings are tight, or you may have a false positive (meaning that you test positive for hamstring tightness but, the hamstring length may actually be unaffected). This can be due to tightness of the hip flexors on the opposite leg (the leg on the ground) and weakness in the rectus abdominus. This will cause the pelvis to anteriorly rotate as you bring the leg up in the air. This will limit the amount of hip mobility (in this case hip flexion) you can attain and give the appearance that the hamstring is tight, when in fact it may not be.

On the flip side of that, if you have weak hip flexors on the leg which you are testing, as you bring the leg up off the ground straight, you may not approach a normal 80-90 degrees of hip flexion and may think that the hamstrings are tight. However, the hip flexors on that leg may just be weak and not able to sufficiently pull your leg up any higher.

Another thing to consider with this test is that often times, people will have adequate hamstring length, but feel that the muscle is tight. They may actually be feeling more neurological stiffness as they may feel a stretch in their dura mater (this is the outer most sheath that surrounds the spinal cord). This can sometimes give you that “tight” sensation.

Something else to consider with this test is where are you feeling the stretch? Some people will feel their first sensation of this stretch in their calves, indicating that the gastrocnemius muscle may be tight (but, the straight leg raise test would give the impression that the hamstring is tight). This would mean that you need to stretch the gastroc first to the test and/or stretch the hamstring. Others may feel this stretch first in the front of their hip, indicating that there is a possible bunching up of fascia in the hip flexor region. In that case, you would want to go and perform some soft tissue work on those structures to allow proper movement to take place.

Also know that there are several methods of stretching, and static stretching is only one modality in the toolbox. Dynamic stretching, contract-relax, contract-relax-contract antagonist or active isolated stretching can all be very helpful and you may find that you respond better to one form of stretching than another. Soft tissue work (massage, ART, myofascial release or foam rolling) can be helpful prior to stretching as they can have a positive impact on the fascia by releasing adhesions and helping allow the tissue to relax before it is taken into a lengthend position.

Finally, remember that flexibility is a neurological problem as much as it is a muscular problem. If something is tight (or if something is weak) it will be relaying info to the nervous system that will affect other muscles (synergists and antagonists). When we are working on flexibility (or even soft tissue work) it is important to make sure that we try and re-integrate our flexibility back into normal movement to “re-program” the nervous system to remember that it is okay to move through these new ranges of motion.

Thanks for the Question. Hope that helps give you some ideas.