Fitness Tip of the Week #14 Are You Taking the Time to Stretch?

This week I have been doing quite a bit of stretching. I mostly wanted to combat the tightness that I was beginning to feel as a result of sitting in classes and studying at my desk, along with the lifting I have been doing as a part of training. It feels good to be able to bend and twist now without significant tightness in my lower back, hamstrings, hip flexors, etc. As I was thinking of a good tip for the week, I remembered how we always used to stretch in PE classes and for team warm-ups several years back. Typically, you hold a stretch and count to 10 or so. This week though, and from now on, you should try holding each stretch you do for at least thirty seconds or even up to a minute. Ten seconds is really not long enough to significantly and adequately lengthen out the muscle fibers and tendons.IMG_2020

In your body, there are tiny sensors called receptors. They are a form of neuron, which carries electrical impulses to and from the brain. In the skin, there are several types of receptors that pick up the sensations of temperature and pressure. In the eyes, these receptors detect light. All these receptors do is carry the information to the brain when stimulated. The brain then reacts and sends signals through neurons to your muscles. This is how you can react to stimulus. Sometimes these reactions are voluntary, and other times they are involuntary. In the muscle itself, there are tiny receptors called mechanoreceptors. A particular type of mechanoreceptors called the stretch receptor detects the amount of tension on a muscle. They send this information to the brain, and it reacts. So, when you stretch a muscle, your brain knows it is being stretched. Stretch receptors are partly responsible for maintaining balance, or proprioception. When you walk on uneven ground, your brain can sense the stretching of the muscles and appropriately react to maintain equilibrium.

In regards to stretching, your body has an involuntary process called the stretch reflex. When a muscle is stretched to a certain point, the brain tells it to contract in order to protect it from being stretched to the point of tearing. Well, when you are doing a stretch, the muscle will naturally resist, and become tight. After a period of time, however, the information from the stretch receptors to the brain begins to lose its intensity as the brain tunes it out. It is similar to how you can tune out random noise over time, as your brain loses focus on it. When this happens with the stretch receptors, the stretch reflex weakens and allows the muscle to stretch a little farther. This will increase the muscles overall flexibility. This cannot be achieved in only 10 seconds of stretching, however. It may take thirty seconds to a minute for the stretch reflex to wear off so the muscle can be fully lengthened. This is why you should take the extra time and hold you stretches longer from now on.

Loren Sheets


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