The Kind of Stretching That Won't Stretch You Much
Several months ago, The New York Times published a piece on stretching. As stories about stretching often go, the article brings a common misconception to the fore. The article was about the growing popularity of fitness studios that focus on stretching in general, and specifically, how it is important to balance flexibility with strength in these days of so many high-intensity, body-pounding workouts.
The studios featured had the same approach in common. That is, in each case, you had to be stretched. In other words, stretching required help from another person, which is fine, again, especially in light of the current trend in high-intensity fitness classes and programs. But, as a matter of analysis, “hands-on" stretching is very different from “hands-off” or self-stretching, a distinction that has great impact on results. Or, another way to think about it is that hands-on stretching is more like a massage – two people, one manipulating the other.
I am a dancer. I have the mind of an athlete, which is one that is laser-focused on results. But it is also an understanding about how the relationship between mind and body works. This means that for a body to enjoy any level of athleticism, it must be independent. Fit, capable, healthy bodies must learn to "do the work," without assistance, which means without depending on something or someone else.
Assisted stretching, like the kind referenced in the article, where one person pushes another into a position, won’t actually increase your flexibility. It feels good and it’s relaxing but it doesn’t allow your body to hone flexibility as a skill, that is muscular in nature and developed over time, like strength, heart health, agility, etc... This is because someone else is moving you. Like any skill in life, physical or otherwise, if someone does the work for you, you’ll never find what you need from within, and in turn, learn how to do it for yourself.
If you workout - running, weight lifting, yoga, rock climbing, dancing, whatever – most likely you do so using certain techniques. There is always some sort of form involved. But this is not true for stretching and flexibility. And that’s odd. Technical principles apply to every kind of craft, sport and art. But curiously, not when it comes to learning how to stretch, despite the fact that flexibility is considered an equal third, balancing cardio and strength and working together to create optimal health.
People who aren’t flexible assume they were born that way, but more often than not, this is not true. What’s true is that ideas of stretching have been confused and basic principles of flexibility, ignored.
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