Okay, so how many of us stretch before and after exercise, or simply for the benefits of flexibility? Thought so! Even those of us who ought to know better are pretty poor at self-stretching, me included.
One of the things I've noticed about stretching is how little attention we generally pay to what we are trying to do and the feedback our bodies give us when we stretch. You see it all the time when people do a quad stretch. They grab their foot, pull it up behind them and that's it. The hip flexes or the pelvis tilts, and in the end very little gets stretched.
Having done the sports massage course, I'm now much more aware of what
I'm trying the achieve when I stretch and how to get the most out of my stretches. I've also learnt the subtle art of relaxing to stretch.
In both MET (Muscle Energy Techniques) and PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) we use a a similar breath in, exhale and relax cycle to facilitate the stretch. You can do the same with your self-stretching. Simply take the target muscle into a stretch, count down from 10, take a deep breath around 6 and let it out slowly. As you hit zero, relax the muscle as you hold the position of the stretch. If it's worked you will feel a slight give in the muscle and you should be able to move into a deeper stretch.
When you can't feel the give, then you've probably reached the limit of the stretch, or you've discovered that you don't know how to switch the muscle off! Both useful bits of information.
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