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StretchMate What the Experts Are Saying...

The “Word” on Flexibility

A recent study, just released in the Journal of Rheumatology, found that flexibility training (stretching) reduced the risk of arthritis for women. Click here to read the entire article.
Both cardiovascular and strength training have been well researched and have long been established as popular exercise components. Flexibility training has taken somewhat longer to be fully accepted. In 1998 and 1999 respectively, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) came out with position stands on flexibility stating that flexibility be added as a third fitness component. Since then, the topic, as well as the practice, has been gathering momentum. The need for flexibility training is unequivocally accepted by numerous health and fitness organizations and certification agencies.

What is Flexibility?

“Flexibility exercises should be incorporated into the overall fitness program sufficient to develop and maintain range of motion.”

American College of Sports Medecine (ACSM)
There are several workable definitions of what flexibility is. The simplest are “freedom to move” and “the capacity of a joint to move fluidly through its full range of motion”. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), flexibility is “the normal extensibility of all soft tissues that allow the full range of motion (ROM) of a joint”. Flexibility needs to occur in all three planes of motion. Therefore, for optimal overall movement, muscles must be actively stretched standing up and moving in these planes.

Stretching muscles is recognized as the easiest and safest way to maintain and/or increase flexibility.

Why Is Stretching So Important?

“Optimum performance and the maintenance of structural and functional efficiency require optimum levels of flexibility.”

National Academy of Sports Medecine (NASM)
Stretching is good for us. We know that intuitively. We do it without thinking. All of us – young, old, male, female – tend to do it the same way, for example by extending our arms when we wake up in the morning, we feel, find, and release the tight area.

Changes in our culture have dramatically reduced the amount of daily movement and activities our bodies experience. We’ve become a “chair borne” and relatively inactive society. The result for many people is a variety of postural muscular imbalances. We are constantly in a seated, forward-flexed position which means we are chronically in poor posture. Over time, this creates a problem with the entire body. Almost 90% of the US population experience low back pain at some point in their lives. This is a good indicator that something needs to change. And change starts with awareness.

Flexibility is a key to virtually all physical movement. To maintain optimal functionality, and therefore quality of life, we need to begin thinking about flexibility training as being as important as strength and cardiovascular training. The body works best when given the opportunity to maintain a “healthy” balance between all three of these components.

“When flexibility training is neglected, forces are applied to joints in improper positions and muscles at improper lengths. This places added stress to the joints and tissues of their structure. It will also force the individual to compensate for these muscle imbalances with improper joint mechanics, eventually leading to injury.”

National Academy of Sports Medecine (NASM)
As we age, our muscles lose some of their elasticity and suppleness and joints begin to “wear out”. The obvious result is that movement becomes inhibited and we become less flexible. Safe and effective stretching of all muscle groups is especially important to combat this.

You already know how to stretch. You’re an expert at it. Even if you live a completely sedentary life, you stretch every day, habitually and safely. You stretch whenever your body demands it, which is usually when you haven’t been moving around enough. You also stretch after you’ve been moving too much. You stretch automatically, reflexively. When you get up from your desk, get out of your car, even when you get out of your comfortable bed, you stretch out exactly those parts that want stretching the most; they tell you to stretch them, and you comply. To ease your stiffness, you move things, slowly, more or less gently. You stretch what feels good, for as long as it feels good to do so.

This is precisely the basis for the StretchMate technique.

“ The soft tissue of the musculoskeletal system – principally the muscle and the connective tissue – responds to over-use by shrinking and tightening. Its response to under-use mysteriously is much the same. We know perfectly well that injury causes ”stiffness”, that inactivity causes stiffness, that aging causes stiffness. But we have it backward; stiffness is the cause, not the result. You don’t lose suppleness because you get old or out of shape, you get old or out of shape – or injured – because you’ve lost suppleness.

Maintaining full physical effectiveness is a matter of balancing levels of use to retain suppleness. To stay supple you must maintain the health and resilience of your connective tissue and the muscle it contains. Regular stretching helps maintain that health and resilience.

When you stretch, you place muscle and connective tissue under a lengthening tension. To stretch effectively you must relax the muscles while you’re stretching them; the resistance to the stretch should come from the elasticity of the tissues, not the contraction of the muscles. An ideal stretching program would regularly take all of the articulated segments of the body through their full range of motion.

Stretching helps resist the gradual shortening and tightening of tissue that otherwise sets in from both over- and under-use, reducing the discomfort and slowing the progressive loss of capacity that accompany this tightening.

The point of stretching isn’t to see (or show) how far you can reach, or even to reach as far as you can, but to pull the tissues out to length and put a little healthy tension on them.”

(“Staying Supple”, John Jerome)

Myths and Misconceptions about Flexibility Training

With all the benefits to be gained from stretching, why is it still a major challenge for some of us to begin a stretching program?

Some people perceive flexibility training to be boring and believe that results come at a slow pace. These misconceptions create obstacles that can prevent us from initiating and adhering to a stretching program and may provide us with excuses NOT to stretch.

Individuals often don’t know what muscles to stretch and how to stretch them. The information that’s generally available can be overwhelming and therefore stretching may be avoided all together. Unfortunately, there never seems to be an urgency to stretch until one gets hurt. Remember, it is never too late to start stretching.

There are many myths and misconceptions about flexibility training that need to be overcome to really understand what stretching is and what it can do for us. Some of the most common include:

  • "Stretching hurts."
    • Proper stretching does not hurt. All stretches should only be held to the point of mild tension. If it does hurt, you are stretching too aggressively.

  • "It's time consuming."
    • It does not have to be. You can do 6 basic stretches and cover all the larger muscle groups in less than 10 minutes.

  • "It takes forever to see results."
    • If you stretch properly, you will feel immediate benefits both physically and mentally.
  • "The more flexibility, the better."
    • As with weight training and cardiovascular training, more is not necessarily better. In fact, if you stretch too much, you may end up with hyper-mobile, unstable joints. Everything in moderation; about 6 stretches daily (less than 10 minutes) is fine for most people.

  • "I can't make my body do that."
    • o Most people say this after looking at pictures in popular fitness magazines or after observing a yoga class. You’re observing people who have spent a life time performing their given art. They are athletes whose genetic potential has allowed them to progress to this level. Your stretching program should be designed to fit your goals and your abilities.

Summary of the Benefits of Stretching
  1. Reduces the risk of injury
  2. Reduces muscular tension
  3. Maintains the normal functional length of all muscles
  4. Eases joint stress
  5. Increases joint range of motion
  6. Corrects muscle imbalances
  7. Improves movement patterns
  8. Improves overall functional ability and freedom of movement
  9. Enhances posture
  10. Develops better body awareness
  11. Decreases delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
  12. Promotes circulation
  13. Allows you to feel and perform better
  14. Helps improve balance and stability

Closed kinetic chain – The chain link between the nervous, muscular and skeletal systems.

Connective tissue – What ties you together into one flexible piece; tendon, ligament, fascia, skin, the covering material for organs, muscles, and bones.

Flexibility – The ability to bend or stretch without damage; see Suppleness.

Functional flexibility – Integrated muscle movements with optimum neuromuscular control through the full range of motion.

Musculoskeletal – The system of muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments that permits active motion.

Neuromuscular – The system of nerves and muscles that controls both voluntary and reflexive movement.

Open kinetic chain – When the body’s chain link is broken causing muscles and joints to move in an isolated, or independent, manner.

Plane of motion – Refers to the plane – sagittal (forward and back), frontal (side to side) and /or transverse (rotational) in which the exercise is performed.

Range of motion – How far you can move a joint. Passive range of motion is how far the joint can be moved by an external force; active range of motion is how far it can be moved by its own musculature.

Relative flexibility – When the body seeks the path of least resistance during functional movement patterns.

Stabilizer – Muscles that support or stabilize the body while the prime movers and the synergists perform the movement patterns.

Suppleness – Lively flexibility; the ability to bend, to stretch, and to spring back easily, and without injury.

For a copy of our 20-page Flexibility Guide, which includes detailed instructions for the six (6) basic stretches on the StretchMate, please e-mail your request to

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