standing quad stretch

Pull one ankle back toward your buttock, bending your knee to stretch the front of your thigh.

First of all, effective stretching is not a total secret, though in my experience it is not a commonly understood concept. When we think about stretching, it’s often done with the idea that it’s like taking a piece of leather and, using force, mechanically lengthening it out. One of the problems with this idea is that ligaments and tendons are not designed to lengthen. Muscle tissue is designed to actively shorten and lengthen, however it will not lengthen effectively if it is held in an activated or tense state. Activation or tension causes muscle tissue to be more rigid—more leather-like—and it can be irritated if forced. That may be one reason some people don’t ‘enjoy’ the process of stretching. The other problem is that rigid tissue, like Turkish taffy, gets thinner and weaker as we forcibly stretch it out. That doesn’t sound good, especially to athletes who simultaneously want to optimize their strength.

Now, instead of thinking of leather that you are stretching and thinning out, think of a spring that has shortened, and your goal in stretching is to relax the tension of the spring.

Muscles will shorten when we activate them, just like tightening a spring. When we release the tension on a spring it lengthens and becomes longer. This is not an ‘all or none’ concept. If, for example, you tense your muscles to make a tight fist, you can ‘let go’ of the fist a little, a lot, or somewhere in between. Our effectiveness is the

standing forward fold

Flex forward from the hips (touching toes) without rounding your back, to stretch the backs of the thighs.

degree to which we can intentionally ‘relax’, ‘release,’ or ‘let go’ of our muscle tension. For some, it’s helpful to picture the tissue doing this. It seems tensing our muscles is easier than selectively releasing muscle tension. But it is a skill and, like any skill, we can improve with practice.

The final piece to understand is that we activate groups of muscles. And we often tend to activate groups of muscles in patterns. Developing skill to release groups and patterns of muscle tension can result in tremendous success. Whether for athletic performance or just basic daily living, this can result in increased freedom of movement, comfort and ability.

Start with stretches that focus on only a few or selected muscles. For example, stand and pull one ankle back toward your buttock, bending your knee to stretch the front of your thigh. Another simple stretch, from the standing position, is to flex forward from the hips without rounding your back, to stretch the hamstrings on the back of your thigh. Then, gradually move into more complex stretches.

Warrior II Pose

The “Warrior II” pose lengthens on diagonals.

Lengthening on diagonals, and when different parts of our bodies are positioned to go in different directions simultaneously, can be especially effective. It requires us to release holding ‘patterns’ of muscle groups that can be a fundamental limiting factor on greater dynamic movement. For those reasons, some yoga poses can be of particular value. Warrior Pose is one example.

So the next time you do some stretching, think of “releasing” your body into that position. See how far it takes you. It’s safer, and quite possibly more enjoyable.

I hope you found this helpful.

Billy Cioffredi, PT/founder
Cioffredi & Associates

P.S. Our eldest daughter, Anna, was kind enough to model these stretches for me. She is now a school teacher (English as a Second Language) in the Greater Boston area, and was home for a summer visit.


Getting Out of Our Own Way
Off Season Training Gains
Piriformis Syndrome
Plantar Fasciitis: The Pain That Won’t Go Away
Can Stretching Really Be Bad?
Play it Safe: Prevent Injury


Pain, Resilience, and Opportunity

by Bill Cioffredi, PT

Physical Therapist Bill Cioffredi, Founder of Cioffredi & Associates | The Institute for Health & Human Performance on PAIN AND RESILIENCE: AN OPPORTUNITY

Over the course of my 30-plus-year career as a physical therapist, I have gotten a lot of satisfaction from helping people deal with what I saw as a lot of mechanical kinds of pain, and if I could help them with their pain through understanding the biomechanics and correcting things, it was really terrific.

More Than Mechanics

But I noticed, over time, more and more people who had histories of anxiety issues, panic attack problems, nervousness, and depression—and many people were on medications for these kinds of things. I began to see that there was a lot more than mechanics behind the pain problems of the people that I was seeing, and I realized that I really needed to get better at understanding that kind of “needingness” to really help people further.

I consider it an interesting paradox that there are now ways, through healthcare, that allow people to live a lot longer than they used to. The question and the challenge that follows is, “Are they, are we, living happier?” especially over those longer periods. This is where the concepts of pain and resilience and opportunity converge.

Building Competence and Confidence

As physical therapists, we have the pleasure to treat people when they come to us because they have a pain problem, and through our work with them we help them develop their competence. But in fact we also have an opportunity to help them develop their confidence—confidence that they can handle whatever it is that’s giving them trouble. It’s true that they usually come to us because they’ve got a pain problem, but you can almost take that concept of the “pain problem” and insert just “problem,” and then what we’re doing is building people’s competence and confidence to handle whatever is in front of them.

And so the topic of resilience is very interesting to me for those reasons, not only just for the pain problems that we see people for, but for the “livingness” parts of things. I have developed a deeper appreciation that when I provide care with this in mind, the pain condition becomes an opportunity…both for the person I’m treating and for me.

Dr. Adam Schwarz Presents The Clinical Science of Resiliency, part of PAIN AND RESILIENCY: AN OPPORTUNITY

LEARN MORE about Pain and Resiliency

I was honored to host Dr. Adam Schwarz of the Hanover Continuity Clinic as the featured presenter at our Fall Speaker Series event on November 2, 2016, and his lecture “The Clinical Science of Resiliency” is available to view on the Cioffredi & Associates YouTube channel.