by Hope Gillerman
Certified teacher of the Alexander Technique
In a recent study in Braintree, MA, exercise physiologists tracked the gains of two groups of participants through a ten week training period. They found that those who did six basic stretches after each strength training session got 54% stronger. Those who didn't stretch got only 29% stronger, nearly half the progress. So if you stretch after a workout, you are increasing strength as well as flexibility.
When you stop exercising, muscles return to a neutral state called resting length. The longer the muscle, the greater the force of its pull. Like a slingshot, it will snap back with more force when you pull it further. Stretching after exercise helps increase your muscles' resting length.
- Muscles work in pairs. While one contracts, the other lengthens. Likewise, if one is chronically tense, the other is weaker. A good stretching program, done properly, can help you locate tension, release it and access your strength potential.
Your habitual way of moving also affects strength and flexibility. If your movement is constricted or your posture collapsed, your muscles' resting length shortens. Without realizing it, you overwork some muscles while under-using others. This imbalance triggers more tension, leading to fatigue and pain. Pushing too hard, rushing or bouncing through stretches stimulates the stretch reflex--a quick muscle contraction. For more benefit, follow the tips below.
- Whenever possible, check your form in a mirror.
- Take at least 30 seconds for each stretch. Focus on releasing tension where you feel most challenged.
- If your breathing feels strained, you are pushing yourself too hard. Lighten up.
The Alexander Technique is the best way to unravel movement habits that cause muscular imbalance. By learning how to workout without strain, you can more effectively build strength and resiliency.