Dynamic stretching!

Its been a while since I last wrote so I thought I better had! Today's blog is about dynamic stretching.

To stretch or not to stretch, dynamic or static, these are all questions posed in the fitness industry. Another question is does stretching reduce injury?? This is not a question that I want to get into but instead look at stretching as improving our exercise experience and performance. For me, if we want to increase movement we do this by, increasing movement.

First of all I think we see stretching as a mechanical experience that increase tissue length. To some degree this is true. However I also see dynamic stretching as a neurological experience that increases information flow around the body. So many of the bodies receptors that live in the skin, fascia, joint capsules and muscles respond to change. This would be change in angle, length, tension, pressure and vibration to name a few. Dynamic movement creates constant change, a static change of position only creates one change!

By increasing the movement sphere and therefore information sphere we increase the potential for more movement. As movement increases, so does the ability to increase the range or sphere. A good friend of mine coined the phrase "movement begets movement" I think this is pretty good way of summing this up! So by remaining static we will not increase this sphere or give the body the potential to increase the sphere.

If we look at the information mechanisms in the body and were to look solely at muscles for this information the muscle spindles would be a great place to start. The spindles have two types of Efferent (info towards the brain). One is based on tissue length and one is based on the rate of change of this length. These intrafusal fibres are vital for the feedback loop, through the gamma and alpha motor neurons, that then regulates the stiffness (resistance to lengthening) of the extrafusal muscle fibres and hence successful movement.

By statically lengthening the muscles we are only giving half of the picture. Movement requires both length and rate of change of length information to be successful. Imagine having the GPS system of your car only relay half the information, and the bit omitted was the speed you were traveling at. I think you would be missing a lot of turns!!!

We also tend to only stretch along the fibre direction or longitudinal axis of the muscle. If we look at the mechanical nature of the spindles then this would lengthen and put the spindles under tension but also imagine that when under longitudinal tension adding in perpendicular and rotational tension. This would affect the information flow also. This demonstrates from a muscular perspective why three dimensionality and movement are pretty vital to the stretching or movement enhancing process. Especially as functional movement uses all three planes!

Also we must see stretching as an integrated procedure. In an integrated system such as the body the range of one joint maybe inhibited by the range available to another. If we stretch the joints separate of their function specific chain we may get a different ranges to if they are integrated. In fact a smaller individual range but a larger integrated movement may be the best desired outcome for some joints to avoid tissue stress.

Many factors may also affect the flexibility of the body. These could be stress, diet, disease and eyesight to name a few. If we can understand the feed forward  mechanism of the gamma motor neuron upregulating the stiffness of the spindles and therefore the alpha motor neuron changing the stiffness of muscle fibres, it is easier to see why the above stressors of the system can have such a huge impact on flexibility and therefore the biomechanics of the body!!

I have never understood how remaining still will help us move!!!