Don’t Let Someone Do It For You
In honor of Independence Day, let’s talk about physical independence, in this case specifically, the difference between being stretched by someone or something else, and stretching yourself. It’s very common for people to think they need either another person or a prop (like a strap) to get a decent stretch. But that’s not so. In fact, it actually creates a crutch and dependency that robs your body of learning how to move in a way that can, and will, actually help you improve your flexibility.
Think about it. If you went to lift weights and someone helped you, would your muscles ever develop? If a machine pumped your heart for you to give it a cardio workout, would your heart ever be strengthened? No, of course not. So why do we think we need something outside ourselves to stretch the muscles that are inside our bodies? It makes no sense. Flexibility, and the development thereof, are every bit the challenge that strength and cardio training are. So, why cheat yourself of getting comparable results when it comes to stretching? Why not use your body to improve flexibility the same way you use it to lift weights for strength, do burpees for agility and endurance, or run on the treadmill for weight loss or heart conditioning?
It’s a fundamental flaw in the world of flexibility training. Personal and athletic trainers stretch their clients by holding, and moving, parts of the body in a position rather than letting the clients find and feel their muscles for themselves. The trainers and coaches who do this don't understand that if you can’t find and feel your muscles, you can’t move them. And if you can’t move them, you can’t stretch them. Someone else should not be doing the work for you, unless, you want it to be more like a massage where your role is a passive one.
Similar, but slightly different is relying on straps or towels to pull the leg closer to the body, most commonly when stretching hamstrings. But 9 times out of 10, pulling on the leg this way actually bends it, because doing so makes it feel as though the leg is going farther. But, if it had to bend to get there, it did not get stretched. It got bent. So, rather than getting a little more length in the muscles each time you pull on that leg, you end up shortening it and creating a perpetual cycle of not stretching, which in turn nets very little in the results department.
So, take this example and say you want to stretch your hamstrings. Lose the strap and hold onto your leg with your hands. Push the knee away from you as you pull the leg closer. You won’t go very far, but you will feel the difference. Then, little by little, the leg will start to move and you’ll be able to get it closer to your face without bending, and without a prop and without a crutch!
So give it a try and feel the difference! Then, if your body wants more, come stretch with us in class or on DVD and find the freedom of flexibility in your body just in time to celebrate Independence Day!
To read more about assisted stretching versus self-stretching check out my blog post, The Kind of Stretching That Won't Stretch You Much.
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