Stretching 101

There are many conflicting opinions on the benefits of stretching, rolling, massage, myofascial release and so on. When should we do it, why should we do it, does it help? For most of us, stretching is something we think we’re ‘too busy’ for, until we’re injured, or so tight and restricted in doing something and wonder why. But there is a fine art to stretching and it’s not easy – and yes, it takes time. So, I asked gymnastics coach and Commonwealth Games medalist, Cristian Brezeanu to give us some advice on something he says is vital to complement any kind of training.

CRISTIAN’S STRETCHING 101……

STRETCH BEFORE TRAINING

“Stretching is basically the process of preparing the muscles for whatever work you are going to do. Before training it’s safe and easy to work with the muscles. Stretching is a process of warming up so bringing the muscle to a certain temperature and stretching at the same time. For most people, you need to warm up a little (such as a few minutes gentle rowing) and do dynamic stretching before going into the static stretching which gets you to a deeper level. After training, your muscle is tired and most of the time too stiff to be stretched effectively, so more prone to over stretching and injury.”

USE DIFFERENT PLANES OF MOTION

“The important thing is not just muscles but range of motion of the joints which is often more limiting than tightness in the muscles. This is often seen in the hips and shoulders.”

RESPECT YOUR BODY’S INDIVIDUAL ANATOMY

“This is what we’re born with; genetics play a part. You can still improve on this but it plays a big part. It’s not an excuse though. Some people will never put their leg around their head for example but mostly it’s to do with joints. Some people have a bigger joint capsule which allows for bigger ranges of motion. How the joints are formed are crucial to your limitations.”

THERE ARE NO TWO CASES THE SAME

“I am often asked how long it will take to do a certain thing – let’s say splits, or muscle ups – but there is no answer, especially until I work with someone for a few sessions and see how their body moves. You can’t just give an answer and anyone who does, is lying.”

STRETCH DAILY

“Most people don’t like to stretch – it’s uncomfortable and can be painful and most importantly you have to do it on a daily basis. There are no short cuts. Muscle building you can find things to speed up the process but with stretching there are no short cuts. You have to do it with small steps. Sometimes you feel you’re going backwards even because you achieve something and your body will go into self defence mechanism but you just have to trust the process.”

TRAIN STRENGTH AND FLEXIBILITY AT THE SAME TIME

“I constantly train both strength and flexibility at the same time. A lot of people do it wrong. They build strength/muscle then try to get flexible. In bodybuilding for example, they’re constantly contracting the muscles but the two things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Flexible muscle fiber allows for larger ranges of motion and prevents injuries.”

DON’T OVERDO IT

“You don’t want to push it too far but the more you do, the easier it becomes. Even if you just hold for five seconds it’s long enough. The most important thing is to relax in the stretch and let go. In time the muscle fiber will get longer. You want to get to the point where you stretch the muscle before it goes into self defence mode and it starts pulling back.”

(* You can find Cristian on Instagram: @brezeanugym)

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