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. Continue reading