Learning how to stretch and breathe through the stretch correctly takes some practice. The stretching techniques we have been taught throughout our lives attempt to stretch our body with the hopes of improving our flexibility. As a certified personal trainer, I was taught how to stretch my future clients with the more traditional style of stretching and using stretching equipment. As a massage therapist, I was taught how to massage our muscles with traditional massage techniques and given classes in yoga and Thai massage to improve flexibility. As an athlete, I was taught traditional stretching like touching my toes and stretching my hamstrings. The ironic thing was, I was never taught anything about how to breathe as I stretched or breathe through the stretch nor how the brain plays a role in stretching.
There is More to Stretching than Just Pulling Muscles
For most of us, we have been taught to think of stretching as pulling our muscles like taffy. The idea is, if I can hard enough and long enough, the muscle, or muscles, will let go and get longer. There are many flaws to this way of thinking. First, if the pressure you are applying is painful, the brain will contract the muscles in the “fight or flight response.” The “fight or flight response” is when the brain feels the body is under attack and chooses to run away from or fight with the danger.
When we create pain while stretching our brain contracts the muscle, or muscles, to prevent an injury. Once this happens, we are strength training our muscles versus stretching the muscles. Think of it this way, once you begin to feel pain or discomfort, the brain contracts the muscle to resist the pain. As you continue to hold the stretch, the move becomes a strength training move as you are working against a resistance. Here is an example. most gyms have the equipment to help with stretching. If you watch anyone use the equipment, you can see how they are pulling their muscles as if they are pulling taffy.
There are two things that are missing when stretching this way. First, you must breathe as you stretch to allow the brain and the body to relax and let go of the tension. You cannot force this to happen. It will take a little time to get used to releasing the tension. Begin by getting in a relaxed position as taught in the Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Secondly, you must breathe out as you stretch the muscle. This is a slow breath so you can feel the muscle release. This is not pulling the muscle but placing enough tension that the brain releases the muscle and tension disappears. Most people make the mistake of breathing too hard or too fast. Breathing too hard will fatigue you and accomplish nothing. Breathing too fast could lead to hyperventilating or fatigue. The idea here is to breathe normally, just a slow breath as you relax the body and feel the muscle releasing.
Releasing the muscle is mistaken for pulling it apart. When I say releasing the muscle, the muscle relaxes and softens. When the muscle relaxes it takes the tension off the joints, nerves, and discs. If you pull too hard, the muscle will tighten as if you are lifting weights. The goal when stretching is to feel relaxed as if you had been meditating or had a massage. If you feel tired after stretching, you are working way too hard.
How to Stretch Correctly – Breathe Through the Stretch
Stretching is a very easy thing to do if done correctly. When stretching any part of the body, be in a more relaxed state and take your time. You cannot relax the brain and body if you are rushing through the stretches. The purpose of stretching is to slow down the brain and relax the body. Next, as you are stretching the muscle breathe out to relax the body, and gently pull the muscle while feeling the muscle release. Finally, make sure you are feeling the stretch where you are supposed to feel it. You are learning to breathe through the stretch intentionally.
Each step takes a little practice as you are changing your mindset about stretching. Be sure to practice each step and not try all of them at the same time. For some of you, relaxing the brain can be a challenge. For others, breathing slowly may be a challenge. Still, others want to feel some level of pain when they stretch and the idea they need to feel the release seems foreign.
Practice daily each of the three parts. Once you feel comfortable try the stretches in the Stretch n’ Release Technique.
In using my technique, you are allowing the brain to release the muscles versus brute force that you see in many gyms and physical therapy. It takes practice, but once you get it, and you will, your body will feel more energized and vibrant.
Stretching is more about feeling the muscles letting go than forcing them to stretch. If you are forcing the muscle, you could be doing strength training, not stretching. Make sure you are feeling the intended muscle stretching. If not, the form could be wrong. Holding for 5 seconds allows the brain to release the muscle before it senses any danger. Repeating the stretches 10 times allows the brain to learn it is safe for the muscle to move that way.
Don’t forget the Tennis Ball Massage!
Softening your hips and back is easy when you use the tennis ball. Just lean against the wall and apply enough pressure to feel the painful area. The temptation is to press harder but resist it. Instead, breathe out and allow the muscle to soften under the ball. Then move to another spot and repeat. Continue doing this until most of the painful spots are gone. Check out previous newsletters to see the video.
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About The Muscle Repair Shop
Drawing upon his personal experience as a former competitive athlete turned wheelchair, obese and chronic pain sufferer, Muscle Repair Shop Founder Butch Phelps decided to take his health into his own hands when at the age of 36 he was told he might not make it to his 40th birthday. Applying balanced nutrition advice from his doctor along with a sound exercise program, he went from 315 lbs. to 180 lbs. Motivated by his experience, he then acquired degrees in advanced therapeutic massage and aging sciences to help people eliminate chronic pain. This included applying his expertise in how people age, including the effects of dementia, anatomy, psychology, and the day-to-day struggles living as an older person to his practice and development of The Muscle Repair Shop’s one-of-a-kind Stretch n’ Release Technique.
Available through in-office and virtual coaching treatment sessions, this unique combination of stretching and breath work teaches the brain to release the emotional side of muscle tension and pain allows clients to find lasting relief and healing from stiffness, aches, injuries, and chronic pain. The at-home exercises come with customized instructional videos and virtual or in-office support, allowing clients to enjoy and experience life and sports as they did before limitations slowed or curtailed activities.